Avey Tare has been making music for a long time. Between his band Animal Collective, his solo work, and collaborations with other artists, he’s got 13 studio albums under his belt – not to mention a number of EPs, live albums, and other singles. Eucalyptus is that 13th album. It’s a quiet, introspective, abstract album that is a far cry from Animal Collective’s most popular work, but it is a bit of an homage to some of their earlier sounds and some of Avey’s solo work. At the end of the day however, Eucalyptus is an album that I could not get into. Most of the tracks here are a mess of ideas that don’t form a complete track, and unfortunately even those ideas are not very fresh or original. Eucalyptus is certainly not an unpleasant album to listen to, but it is an album that hides under false complexity and abstraction. When you peel the layers back here, there is not much to discover.
With a 62 minute run-time, Eucalyptus has just two tracks that are fully fledged ideas for a song. “Jackson 5” and “Roamer” are solid. They both have good melodies, a natural progression throughout the song, and an emotional impact. That last point is important. I understand that it is the intention of electroacoustic and freak folk music to play with the normal standards of melody and progression. However, it is important for the music itself to still create a level of emotional connection with the listener, and there is little to none on most of Eucalyptus. Even more, these are not fresh ideas for Avey. He is bringing in more of an ambient and field recordings influence on Eucalyptus with songs like “Melody Unfair”, but these effects do not do anything for him from a musical standpoint. Most of the album plays very similar to Pullhair Rubeye or even Animal Collective’s Campfire Songs which released 9 and 14 years ago respectively – and I think those albums executed these ideas more completely.
Abstraction cannot be mistaken for complexity. For a first time Avey Tare listener (or especially first time Animal Collective listener), I am sure there will be more to enjoy here than I found. There are certainly many sounds to hear in Eucalyptus. Most of the album is awash with sounds: a soft acoustic guitar strumming chords fading in and out, Avey Tare softly singing abstract, often unintelligible lyrics, and the ambient, field recordings type sounds that drift in and out of the song. However, again, this mix of sounds rarely combines to create any effect on the listener and the album is entirely too homogeneous to justify its run-time. I enjoyed the same ideas as they were presented on Pullhair Rubeye and Campfire Songs because although they were abstract, that abstraction added to the overall emotional impact that the album had (and if you enjoyed Eucalyptus and haven’t heard those albums, check them out!). Furthermore, I firmly believe that anyone claiming that the listener needs to focus less in any way while listening to an album is essentially asking the listener to ignore the flaws of the album. Claiming that the best way to enjoy an album is to let it “wash over you” is toeing that line. It’s fine to claim that an album is best enjoyed when you’re relaxing, but to claim that if the listener focused less on the music is plainly asking them to ignore the flaws that are apparent upon a close listen (I have more thoughts on this idea that are not relevant to this review that can be found below the score at the end).
I understand that at this point in Avey’s career, it is evident that he really enjoys making this style of music. This is a sound and style that he returns to again and again, and I am assuming that Eucalyptus is somewhat of a passion project for him. For full disclosure, I have been an avid Animal Collective fan for years, and I have an immense amount of respect for Avey and the other members of Animal Collective. It is always hard to tear down and criticize work from an artist with such a storied career, especially a quiet, introspective, chronologically late album like this one. Yet, at the end of the day, Eucalytpus is not an album that creates much of an emotional impact on the listener at all, and its full of ideas that Avey Tare has already explored extensively. Even the two songs I liked (“Jackson 5” and “Roamer”) are begging to be even more fleshed out and a lot of the album does not sound like much of anything. I fully hope that making this music gives Avey all the satisfaction and happiness in the world, but it does nothing for me.
In regard to the above conversation about enjoyment vs. criticism of an album,
This is actually an idea I have heard over and over again: “If you didn’t try so hard to criticize this album, you’d like it more.” This is almost certainly true. If you took any album and in some capacity found a way to ignore its flaws, the album would sound better and you would enjoy it more. Everyone does this consciously or not, whether it’s skipping tracks you don’t like as much, understanding that a certain album only “works” when you’re feeling sad, or simply going into a listen knowing that, for example, the lyrical content is sub-par. I love music, and I love enjoying music. However, there are differences between subjective tastes and objective artistic quality. These are naturally not mutually exclusive – as humans, we often take pleasure in consuming and creating high quality art. But it is the purpose of this blog and these reviews to discuss – to the best of my ability and with the best defense I can come up with – the objective artistic quality of the music. For Eucalyptus specifically, I enjoyed the time I spent with it. I found it pleasant and somewhat relaxing, it was just that on closer listens I felt that it was shallow, unoriginal, and unemotional. If you find that it is easier for you to enjoy Eucalyptus by listening to it in the background while working, or falling asleep, or relaxing, or walking on the beach, that is great – but it’s irrelevant to a discussion of its artistic quality.
Regardless, this is a conversation I’ve had with many different people and I find endlessly fascinating. This topic will almost certainly come up again in my reviews (especially the first time I either heavily acclaim or criticize a pop album), but I would also be happy to talk about this with anyone that has a different idea or opinion.