Josh “Deakin” Dibb is probably the least well-known member of Animal Collective. With vocals being almost completely dominated by bandmates Avey Tare and Panda Bear, the creation of the soundscapes and samples contributed mostly by Geologist, Deakin’s subtle guitar melodies and intricacies fade into the background, shrouded by his fellow musicians’ more obvious additions. He was absent on the band’s most popular and revered album, and his return to the band marked a supposedly significant tailspin in quality.
But just like that, he reaffirmed his existence in a surprise song on Centipede Hz, “Wide Eyed”, which strictly featured himself on the vocals. This led to a reevaluation of sorts, examining his earlier contributions and now rating them in a more positive light. Of course, his supposed “uselessness” still spawned memes across the internet, with the shoddy transition from Merriweather Post Pavilion to Centipede Hz prompting some to think that anything Deakin touches turns out boring, a sullied exploration into things the trio more masterfully explored without him.
Painting With marked a return to their much loved sound – and stood to confirm what many were already thinking. Most figured Deakin’s solo project wouldn’t actually happen, especially the donors that had contributed to his Kickstarter. It had been months, years, since they had donated, and all they had seen were good-natured emails that pushed the release date further back. They knew he meant well, but many of the donors had begun to lose hope. This EP probably won’t happen. But there he came, risen from the ashes of something that had burned, subsequently causing the music community to examine his contributions to Animal Collective in a new light. The album was absolutely beautiful, maybe even worth the very, very long wait.
Sleep Cycle first strikes you with its sheer atmosphere, reminiscent of earlier Animal Collective albums, setting the scene with a sample familiar to those who have ever driven at night, alone, with the cool breeze blowing through your car and brushing your face, headlights illuminating the plane of blackness before you. It packs a sort of nostalgic punch that the simple twinges of guitar chords only help to bring into fruition. It exists beautifully without any side effects, lacking any forcefulness.
The songs themselves do nothing but reinforce this feeling, with “Golden Chords” repeating mantras proclaiming the listener to chill out and “just be,” to create something without anything weighing them down. The entire album seems to follow this theme, tracks seamlessly blending into each other and creating a wonderful landscape of tranquil positivity. “Just Am” uncovers more raw emotions, pleading “Dad, I can’t see, I’ve lost my voice, I need direction,” capturing a raw intensity whose naturalism overshadows any semblance of perfectionism that Deakin claims prevented the album’s quick release. Even the transitory tracks, “Shadow Mine” and “Seed Song”, build and navigate around this folksy atmosphere that hasn’t felt so nuanced since Campfire Songs. Both of these tracks can easily stand alone as haunting ambient pieces. In spite of the masterfulness of these tracks, “Footy” nearly puts them all to shame. It almost immediately begins a steady climb to a powerful melody, a bit premature, but nothing too special. That is, until building and growing into a monumental display of psychedelica. It’s the most immediate track, one that sustains itself for seven minutes in a glorious wave of drum rolls and chromatic vocal inflections.
Despite this being Deakin’s first solo release, it doesn’t strike as being unfledged or without direction. It’s an acoustic tour from Mali, Africa to the familiar warmth of Animal Collective’s past peaks, akin to Here Comes The Indian and Sung Tongs without overstepping itself as a spiritual successor to either. Instead, it breathes as its own jut of the Animal Collective discography, an offshoot that rivals the solo work of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks and gives credence that Deakin could, in time, deliver something equally as capable as Tomboy or Person Pitch.
– Johanna C.