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For much of the decade that followed Animal Collective's 2009 masterstroke Meriwether Post Pavilion, output from the group and its members splintered in several different directions. Animal Collective themselves continued along their never linear trajectory with strange and spazzy albums that could be claustrophobic or spacious. Dave Portner, known under his stage name Avey Tare, went in various directions with his solo work as well, from the swampy gunk of 2010's Down There to the sprawling emotional whirlwind of 2017's Eucalyptus, an often formless home-recorded reflection on major shifts in his personal life. Cows on Hourglass Pond streamlines Portner's impulses to wrap his tuneful songs in drawn-out experimentation, focusing instead on the closest thing to straightforward pop his weird vision man manage. Still dousing the mix with jagged samples, found sounds and good-natured clouds of electronics, Portner's vocals are more up front and his melodies are less wandering. Much like the best moments of Eucalyptus and Animal Collective's stunning 2017 EP Meeting of the Waters, acoustic guitar factors heavily into many of these succinct and hooky songs. The bounding "Saturdays (Again)" is one of the most immediately catchy songs Portner has penned since Animal Collective's playful and naive Sung Tongs era, and it's wistful melody recalls the gentle, euphoric spirit of those early days. It doesn't feel, however, like Portner is trying to recapture a younger version of himself. These songs feel weathered and wizened, tracks like "Taken Boy" transmitting from a cautious distance. The entire album bears this metered reflection, and it makes sense. At this point, Portner has grown through over 20 years of developing, the feral screaming and psychedelic exploration of his early days sharpening into pristine synth pop and now blurring into a reflective collection of psychy, rural folk. The album forms fully in its last two tracks. The gently rolling "Remember Mayan" tying together it's soft melodies and acoustic strums with stabs of deep synth bass and washy samples and album closer "HORS_" sounding like Self Portrait era Bob Dylan reimagined as a trippy synth jam. He hasn't completely given up the weird sounds and manic energy his music has always relied on, but Cows on Hourglass Pond is an uncluttered and beautifully direct reading of Portner's always opaque songwriting. The best tracks are among his strongest and the entire record finds Portner opening up the gates of noise and abstraction that can cloud his productions just enough for listeners to get a better look at his mysterious but friendly world as it evolves.