Animal Collective is indeed a collective, and although their peak was a decade ago (with the massive Strawberry Jam), their side projects continue to show possibilities for fruitful exercises. Somewhere along the line, the Panda Bear solo projects started to become the main event. This isn’t too surprising, as Person Pitch was named Album of the Year by Pitchfork a decade ago, even above the Collective’s release from that year. Likewise, Tomboy is on par with Centipede Hz, and Grim Reaper is a much better record than Painting With. Along the way, co-founder Avey Tare’s solo stuff got lost in the mix because of his strain that followed the path somewhere in-between Lennon and Harrison (being the more aggressive and contentious of the two’s output).
2010’s Down There was a neo-psychedelic trip down the side of the genre that is usually less appealing: the grittier and more immediate style, rather than Panda Bear’s sweeter and Beach Boys-esque flowing type. It was a good record, but one I enjoyed at the time yet never reached back for. Slasher Flicks was much more compelling in its vision and execution, “Little Fang” becoming one of my favorite tracks in 2014 because of its bouncy melody and plentiful effects (the Deradoorian backing vocals were extra icing on the cake).
Eucalyptus is a descendant of neither of these records; none of the immediacy of Slasher Flicks and Down There are present during its deeply slow and molasses-dripping 63-minute runtime. But that’s not to say this is a brand new sound for Avey Tare; the bells and drones on “Lunch Out of Order”, for instance, are an echo of side B of Sung Tongs. With a mix of sloppy and sweet, Eucalyptus takes its place as one of the best psychedelic records of the year and one of the premiere Animal Collective side projects.
The record opens spiritually with “Season High”, which is full of cryptic descriptions through a cross section of topics mixed with slow rhythmic strumming and a flowing melody make for a microcosm of what’s to come. Eucalyptus is also adorned with sneaky Julianna Barwick-esque harmonies from Deradoorian, like on “Melody Unfair”. The acoustic guitar is a constant throughout, too, and “Ms. Secret” brings Tare’s vocals to familiar Animal Collective territory.
“Jackson 5” is a standout track, with Tare’s voice piercing and pilfering. Elsewhere, “PJ” moans and moves and staggers and trembles, “In Pieces” is vaguely reminiscent of Daniel Johnston in its opening (and a clear descendant of Sung Tongs by the end), and “Selection of a Place” shape shifts in style like a Kubrick film and hovers like a moon lander. Recalling Syd Barrett, the record continues here and there with intentionally poor pacing and a wacky progression.
Your enjoyment of this record almost completely depends on if it sounds good to you in writing. If a slowly moving, patient, and weird Avey Tare record sounds appealing, it almost assuredly will be; for the masses, however, some sections may register as too playfully weird.