Album Review: Avey Tare – 7s

[Domino; 2023]

For over 20 years, Avey Tare has been the principal songwriter and musician in Animal Collective, a unit with a pool of talent great enough to spill over into consistently worthy individual work. If the band’s latest effort, 2022’s Time Skiffs, was borne of sessions and touring that started in 2019 (pre-Covid, as it were), 7s is Avey Tare’s pandemic project. Recorded largely between 2020-2021, 7s reflects the artist’s neverending musical pursuit as it took place in a time without live music. Avey spent time in his Asheville home creating skeletal demos for 7s in 2020, and then took them to a recording studio in 2021 where they were fleshed out. 

Opener “Invisible Darlings” can be seen as a tribute to the essential workers of the pandemic, bright in both its appreciative lyrics (“Let’s talk about our invisible darlings / Who probably think they haven’t been seen all year…”) and light piano rolls (a characteristically Animal Collective-y video also portrays the song’s vital subjects as sun-faced visitors). It’s a nice tribute, and the first of many songs that cast 7s as a pandemic journal, full of the artist’s reflective musings from a time when he and the rest of us had little else to do but think. “The Musical” has an outro that finds Avey contemplating how one even finds themselves as a professional musician: “Alone in a field I wonder how it is explained / That a person comes into the field of making sounds and putting them together…”

Ruminating is not new to Avey Tare’s catalog. Eucalyptus, his 2017 album, was sublime in its quiet, folky musings. That album’s follow-up Cows On Hourglass Pond, from 2019, was also contemplative, but injected with more juice, like on the riveting closer “HORS_”. 7s exists somewhere in between. It certainly has a more present percussive beat than Eucalyptus, however its compositions are allowed to stretch out, with five out of seven tracks here passing the five-minute mark (only two of Cows’ 10 tracks did such). This approach lends 7s‘ centerpiece “Hey Bog” an epic effect, building slowly in tempo. It takes over four minutes for Avey’s voice to enter, but when it does the results are riveting, the pace of the track livened by rickety drums and sun-drenched guitars. 

The nearly nine-minute “Sweeper’s Grin” retains the hazy, searching qualities of classic AnCo songs like “Visiting Friends” or one of the longer tracks on Campfire Songs. Building in echoes, the track nearly folds in on itself, but in its final minute strips down to a recording of flowing water. It sticks the landing. “Neurons” then adds a metallic bounce not unlike the sounds and rhythms found on AnCo’s 2013 album Centipede Hz.

If “Invisible Darlings” opens 7s with a note of brightness, “Cloud Stop Rest Start” ends the album in a more uneasy place. A shaky melody resounds from the song’s rhythm guitar, while effects lurk underneath. Avey is right to thank our essential workers, but at the same time knows that our problems aren’t over. Instead of providing a clean resolution, he concludes with a question: “Oh, American stranger, is it always like this / Losing things to spikes in the ups and downs?”