It’s always been kind of difficult to tell who plays what on Animal Collective records. I know that all members can play guitar, and know how to make guitars sound like a completely different instrument. I know that Panda Bear usually plays drums, and that he and Avey Tare split vocal duty, with Avey usually singing the most lead parts. I know that Geologist is primarily the main synth dude. But Deakin (Josh Dibb), the elusive occasional fourth member of the Collective, was always a mystery to me.
If you read AC’s bio on Wikipedia, he is listed as playing more instruments than any other band member, yet the only time I can ever remember him being at the forefront off the top of my head was when he did lead vocals on a single track on 2012’s Centipede Hz.
Based on how 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and this year’s Painting With, the band’s most electronic-heavy, accessible and poppy albums, lacked any presence from Deakin, I always assumed that he was the biggest spazz in the group, the wildcard that was called in to make everything a little bit weirder. Deakin’s first solo album, the excellent Sleep Cycle, both confirms and dispels my preconceived notions of the musician, showing the world he is truly a talent to be reckoned with in his own right.
Right off the bat we get “Golden Chords”, a track that is undoubtedly coming from a member of Animal Collective, with its ambient noise intro and African-inspired rhythms. However, the vocals and guitar tone are far more reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, than they are of the solo work of Avey Tare and Panda Bear.
In true AC fashion, much of the lyrics are indistinguishable, but you can hear Dibb singing about fields and flowers and creation that is “so full of love”. It is truly a stunning album opener, and a glorious left turn for anyone expecting him to turn out a product exactly like what we are used to from his contemporaries.
The melodies and production style of the record are pretty similar to what the Collective turns out, but there is a slightly bigger emphasis on organic sounds, which is refreshing to hear so soon after the synth-based Painting With. While the guitars on lead single “Just Am” sound very similar to the effects that Panda Bear used on much of Tomboy, and the vocal embellishments sound a lot like Avey Tare’s typical singing style, the little piano noodles in the chorus give a much more human edge to the track than it would be likely to have if they were done on synthesizers.
Although the album has a fairly mellow vibe overall, but the energy peaks with “Footy”, a rolling, tumbling prog rock jam that recalls the manic energy of Centipede Hz, the last Animal Collective album to feature Deakin. The song begins with just synths and Dibb calling on his listeners to “be brave” before the guitars come in, heavier than anything AC has created in years, possibly ever. Although his yelling abilities aren’t as strong as his contemporaries, and the drummer (credited as Dutch E Germ) isn’t nearly as precise as Panda Bear, the song is so gloriously frantic that its imperfections actually make it MORE enjoyable.
This album has been a long time coming – in fact Deakin actually created a KickStarter campaign to fund it all the way back in 2009, before being sidetracked by humanitarian work in Africa and crippling perfectionism. Some contributors even considered taking legal action after contributing money to a product that never arrived. But after seven long years, the album is here, and it was certainly worth the wait.
Although I quite enjoyed Painting With, in many ways Sleep Cycle is a superior work, largely because of how surprising it is. Not only was it released out of nowhere, but it swings wildly between multiple moods with little warning, yet manages to stay incredibly cohesive.
The loose, psychedelic tone here recalls earlier AC albums like Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam, while simultaneously offering enough new sounds to show that Deakin deserves attention as a solo artist. It’s the rare solo project that both reaffirms the legacy of one of the greatest modern psychedelic acts, AND finally gives us the proper introduction to what is hopefully a long, prosperous career for its most mysterious member.
Purchase Deakin’s Sleep Cycle on iTunes here.
Words by Nick Hart