[My Animal House; 2016]
Animal Collective’s 2016 release Painting With feels a bit like a final effort for the band. It’s a palatable album but lacks the spirit of adventure found in early AC works. After a 16-year span where they’ve released 11 albums, you can’t blame the boys for going through the motions at this point. It’s not that they’ve lost their muse – Panda Bear continues to create his melodic atmospheres on critically acclaimed solo albums, and Avey Tare’s boundary pushing solo work has reached incomprehensible levels (in a good way). Much like The Beatle’s near the end of their run, AC seem more comfortable and willing to take risks as solo artists. In 2016, the underappreciated and mysterious Deakin has emerged as AC’s biggest secret with his first solo album, Sleep Cycle.
In the same way George Harrison emerged from the Fab Four’s shadow back in 1970 with All Things Must Pass, Deakin’s Sleep Cycle arrived in 2016 with a six song track list that is the most authentic and compassionate music to come out of the Collective in a long time. While his self-assured bandmates have continued rolling out new music every year, Deakin has spent the past seven years struggling with anxiety and a lack of confidence in his work as a solo artist.
This melancholy timidity is at the heart of Sleep Cycle and these same endearing qualities often remind me of Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, another underappreciated artist who finally made his mark after years of trying to find his voice. Despite this uncertainty, the album often presents a glimmer of hope. On album opener, “Golden Chords”, Deakin softly sings, “Can’t see past the edge of what has gone/ but I’m hoping I’ll try”, “That crushing never ending change/ is full of love”, and the final pep talk of “You’re scattered ever lonely buddy/but so full of love.” The lyrics often resemble that of a journal found left behind at a rehabilitation center, a message of having faith in the midst of despair.
Sonically, the album feels stripped down and intimate yet expansive and warm in its subterranean ambiance. It often sounds like Deakin is singing his songs of optimism at the gates of Hades, his melodies softly floating up from a cavern deep below. As the album progresses, Deakin goes from meditative on “Just Am” and “Shadow Mine” to a more unruly madness on “Footy” where he shouts out “I’m fine!” again and again over pounding drums and looming organs.
“Seed Song” and “Good House” end the album on a tranquil note, bringing calm back to raging waters. Synths bubble up around his voice and wisps of a hollow air resonate peacefully up toward the surface. By the end of “Good House”, Deakin seems fully submerged, his voice tumbling calmly to the bottom of his ocean of sound. No longer does he seem scared or worried or uncertain – rather, he seems at peace with the world around him, even when he feels like a sinking ship.