The hypnotic, icy and alien Down There is the first solo album by Animal Collective's Dave Portner. Unlike his Animal Collective bandmate Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Portner's solo work avoids any kind of accessibility. In part, this is because on Down There, Portner staunchly refuses to engage in the frenzied or glorious electronics of Lennox or Animal Collective's work. In part, this is because Down There is too aimless (at best) or atonal (at worst) to work.
One of the most frustrating things about Down There is its casual approach to production and execution. Much of the album is littered with studio banter, false starts and what sounds like unformed instrumental experimenting. When it works—on the floating, spacey, haunting "Heather in the Hospital"—it is deeply affective. When it fails, like on the acoustic, aimless "Glass Bottom Boat," it is entirely distracting.
Portner's work with Animal Collective suggests that he could have easily crafted a quirky pop album. Sure, there is something admirable about Portner embracing his more whimsical nature, but the resulting album is better in theory than in practice, which means a shuffling, twittering track like "Oliver Twist" is tarnished by attention-deficit overindulgence.
The great standalone tracks—like the swirling, bouncy, atmospheric "Cemeteries" and the clangorous, lurching closer "Lucky 1"—make the album's more distracted or formless sections maddening. As a dark work that was born from serious personal drama and dissatisfaction, Down There is either too disconnected or too esoteric to convey the real human emotions that created it.