Paw Tracks has always been something of a family label. A good many of the artists on its roster are offshoot projects of flagship act Animal Collective, they are all in some way connected to the band, be they friends or family, and, in all cases, a shared affinity for an unconventional approach to writing and performing music. The label’s newest release, Rings’ Black Habit, gives a literal interpretation of Paw Tracks being a “family,” as group member Abby Portner is sister to Animal Collective’s Dave Portner, better known as Avey Tare.
Rings, formerly known as First Nation, had joined the Paw Tracks tribe before Portner joined the band, incidentally, but when original member Melissa Livaudais left, the group was renamed with their new member rounding out the trio. Those familiar with First Nation’s self-titled debut release should find that Black Habit easily picks up where that record left off, only with more accessible and satisfying results. Portner, Nina Mehta and Kate Rosko play an off-kilter brand of experimental psych-folk, not unlike Animal Collective, but with a touch of baroque melancholy. Dig the cascading piano on “All Right Peace.” There’s a wintry spookiness about it that lends a sort of eerie chill to the otherwise playful pagan activities.
“Mom Dance” has a similarly ghostly sound, guitar and piano dancing in circles around tribal beats that seem to conjure up notions of the titular ritual, whatever that might be. “Is He Handsome” seems a bit lighter, particularly given the space age sound effects that whoosh between verses, yet the incessant wheezing sounds seriously harsh its mellow. “Scapeaside” makes up for its predecessor’s shortcomings with harder rocking sounds, all distorted guitars and shrieking, sing-songy vocals, even a kind of catchy, climactic refrain. In “Double Thanks,” however, the girls sounds their most frightening, with echoing screams punctuating an otherwise laid back song.
Rings more than just connect with the Paw Tracks family on a genetic level, they seem to share a similar approach, that being one of defying norms and going against everything you know about pop music, and still coming out with something musical and even, at times, beautiful. That said, their abrasive nature lends itself to some annoying experiments from time to time. Even so, their goal seems all the nobler for pushing their artistry without succumbing to the conservative.
Animal Collective – Feels
First Nation – First Nation
White Magic – Dark Star
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.