When an album you’ve been anticipating for months exceeds your expectations, it’s a special feeling. It’s also a rare one. Too many times, especially as of late, I’ve been let down by projects I was champing at the bit to listen to.
Let’s go back to January of 2016, for example. Kanye West released two extraordinary singles (“Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA”), only to follow them up with the festering piece of shit known as The Life of Pablo. Likewise, A$AP Rocky released Testing, his first project since 2015’s At. Long. Last. A$AP, early last year, and it pains me to say that it’s flat out horrible. Even Travis Scott’s Astroworld, an album that garnered much praise from critics and fans alike, greatly disappointed me, mainly because the hype leading up to it made it seem like it would be a career-defining album. It’s not. It’s easily his worst.
Over the past few months, Avey Tare, one of the founding members of my favorite band Animal Collective, released not one, not two, but three singles for his latest album Cows on Hourglass Pond. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they’re all fantastic, mainly because Avey Tare and Animal Collective haven’t had a great track record over the past few years. I became enthralled with the tracks, almost exclusively listening to them on repeat. It took me back to the mid-to-late 2000s; a time where I was just a teenager developing a passion for music, and Animal Collective was at their best.
I’m pleased to say that while its title is atrocious, Cows on Hourglass Pond is a phenomenal project. In fact, it’s the best thing any member of Animal Collective has put out since the release of Deakin’s marvelous solo record, Sleep Cycle, in 2016. I’d even go as far as to say that it tops Down There as Avey Tare’s best album. Those who have been listening to his music since the beginning will enjoy the relevant content, covering themes such as aging, nostalgia, and checking in with those closest to you. All of which are topics that should strongly resonate with someone in their late 20s and older.
Starting the record strong is the superb “What’s the Goodside?” a rhythmic dance groove that gets tighter as it progresses. Avey’s vocals hauntingly echo as he chants “I just wanna roam” before the drum beat kicks in to give the track some momentum. About halfway through, a gorgeously serene acoustic guitar chord progression emerges above a cloud of electronic sounds, overpowering the murky instrumentals and vocals to triumphantly carry the song to its upbeat and melodious conclusion. While the music is beautiful, what moves me most about this track is its core message. It’s about checking in with the people you’re closest with and making sure they’re doing ok; a simple gesture that people often forget or become “too busy” to do.
Shifting gears to a sound familiar to Animal Collective’s early freak folk days, “Eyes on Eyes” is driven by a unique chord progression and simple slapping percussion. Spastic and sporadic strumming perfectly complements Avey’s up-tempo singing about eye contact and how it makes people remember one another for so long. In between short breaths, Avey rapidly spouts the chorus before shouting “I saw you see me in your eyes.” A beautiful lyric that represents the deep, heavy eye contact he longs for.
Another throwback to Animal Collective’s heyday is “K.C. Yours.” Clacking percussion, droning guitars, and an infectiously catchy chorus come together nicely in this quirky song about a robot companion. At its conclusion, Avey explodes with aggressive vocals reminiscent of the pre-Merriweather Post Pavilion era. It’s the only time you hear him scream on the album, which incites a feeling of nostalgia for the raw, primal sound of Animal Collective’s early days.
“Nostalgia in Lemonade,” my favorite non-single track, features the best vocal melody on the album. Over minimalistic instrumentals, primarily comprised of convulsing synths, a faint piano arpeggio, and intermittent guitar strumming, Avey’s whispering vocals deliver some of the album’s best lyrics. “And the ritual of longing for something that doesn’t last” is something we can all relate with, whether it’s regarding a relationship we desperately try to cling onto or a special feeling from the past we try to replicate. “There’s gonna be some spills and the ice you chase after is the last thing in the glass” is also another effective line that is a metaphor for a troubled relationship that’s hard to give up.
Perhaps the catchiest and most accessible track on the album, “Saturdays (Again)” features a jingly guitar riff and lyrics reflecting on the simplicity of youth. Throughout the song, Avey paints a picture of simpler times with lines like “Scents will play a wonderful day/ Sights will be exploding” and “There’s lots of cracks in many days/ Oh so many wishes.” It’s a fun, hooky song that takes you back to Saturdays of childhood; where responsibilities were minimal and many of life’s excitements had yet to be experienced.
Tranquil and sincere, “Our Little Chapter” is a nice cooldown that nicely transitions into the dreamy, mesmerizing synth loop of “Taken Boy.” Listening to this hazy, hypnotic song is the equivalent of floating through a fog-filled forest in a calm, relaxing trance. Avey’s vocals are more tenebrous and evocative than ever as he croons “But it never was/ Only was in dreams/ All its pretty things/ Are taken, boy.” It’s a song about the unattainable things we long for. We’re all just aimlessly drifting through life seeking to acquire them.
Closing out the record is “HORS_,” a majestic singsong that cleverly uses a sample of hooves tapping against the pavement to keep the beat. While the title references the well-known basketball game, the lyrics are all about horses and how their role in this world has drastically changed over the years. Avey sings “Our modern tweakers, they don’t need their horses,” “I wondered if the horses missed their job,” and “Some just see four-legged foals for petting/ Horses in a stall chewing on straw” to exemplify this. It’s silly and playful on the surface, but underneath it is a metaphor for aging. We’re useful and full of vigor in our youth, but as time moves forward and old age sets in, we become unavailing and sedentary.
Cows on Hourglass Pond is an amazing album, but it is also so much more. It’s an impressive return to form for an artist that’s struggled to connect with his fan base over his past few releases. With this project, Avey Tare has perfectly meshed concepts he hasn’t explored before with the familiar sound that helped establish him as a musician. There’s a lot here for long-time fans to love, but there are also some fresh ideas that differentiate it from Avey’s past records. I’ve never heard him make a song like “What’s the Goodside?” but I dig the more conventional, rhythmic approach. On the other hand, songs like “Saturdays (Again)” and “Nostalgia in Lemonade” sound like they could have been recorded between Feels and Strawberry Jam, which should appease those pining for material reminiscent of old Animal Collective.
When all is said and done, the only thing I dislike about Cows on Hourglass Pond is its ludicrous title, and that’s more than I can say about any Avey Tare or Animal Collective project released over the past few years. I consider that a triumph.
Listen to Cows on Hourglass Pond here.
Favorite Tracks: Saturdays (Again), Nostalgia in Lemonade, What’s the Goodside?, K.C. Yours
Did you listen to this album? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!