Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks - Enter the Slasher House

The manic Animal Collective member teams up with two other indie-weird anointed to deliver a funhouse album of ins, outs, what-have-yous.

Additional Info

7.4

ALBUM: Enter the Slasher House

ARTIST: Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks

2014

Alternative

Dave Portner and his merry band of animals have been a mainstay of indie-electro music for the entire twenty-first century. Animal Collective’s period of monumental success came during their four-album arc beginning with 2004’s Sung Tongs and leveling with the accomplished Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2009. The band enjoyed its success with fans and critics alike, and hipsters took A.C. as their patron saint. The band got really weird with their darling status, in the way of the ODDSAC visual album and piecemeal sound installations, but their last album, 2012’s Centipede Hz, may have served as a snap back to reality. There seems to be a dawning realization that they need to again produce something larger audiences want to hear in order to remain relevant. At the tail of their hype period, Noah Lennox (A. C.’s Panda Bear) released two stellar solo efforts, albums that diverted much interest from the Collective solely to him. Tare answered with 2010’s Down There, though its unfocused glitch-glitz detracted from the somber musings on death and Portner’s sister’s cancer. Their respective solo albums helped define the two artists musically (in and out of A.C.), and put a bit of a divide between Portner and Lennox, as Panda Bear’s Person Pitch hit all the melodious notes Down There sidestepped. We found Tare was the weird one, Bear was the songsmith. It became easy to pick out which parts of Animal Collective songs were forged by which member. Largely, the most appealing aspects of their songs seem to be of Lennox’s pop mind (revisit his balmy hypnosis on Merriwether Post Pavilion’s “My Girls”). That’s not to say that Portner isn’t capable of creating a pleasant, imaginative melody (see the sloshing beat on Down There’s “Ghost of Books”), but he does seem to favor the arcane over the accessible. Now, after Centipede Hz underwhelmed most of us through its confusion (It’s worth noting that Tare wrote eight of the songs), Portner surfaces with alum from the Dirty Projectors (maybe the next most vaunted indie band) and Baltimore’s funky defunct Ponytail in tow. What the power trio has come up with is an all-over-the-place collection of dance-macabre bursts that draw the best elements from each member’s respective groups. Portner flourishes in the Slasher House working with these similar minds. Avey Tare got his groove back.

Enter the Slasher House is self-aware, unabashed camp, yes, but there are sustained moments of total grooviness in harmony with the theatricality of the project. The songs often move from experimental “kitchen sink-ing” into the realm of certified dance goodness that made Animal Collective explode in the mid-aughts. It’s pleasant to experience this within Tare’s own world, and he keeps those hooks deranged enough to be interesting. “Little Fang” is the strongest example of this new harmony. The song’s simple but fascinating backbeat is reminiscent of moments on Feels (see “Grass”) where it felt criminal to be having this much fun to some nonsense. The same goes for “Strange Colores”, a funky odyssey within the gobbling maw of dancing and jamming. Though, the album’s highs are balanced out by the uneven cuts that have moved from interesting and novel to purposeless and hapless. The failed story-song of “The Outlaw” goes nowhere and ends up annoying more than anything else.

Orbiting the whole work—good and not so much—is a sense that few other artists could make this absurdity make sense. Slasher Flicks feels similar to Animal Collective at their (debatable) best—stripped down yet full of experimental fire. The strength of Avey Tare—with or without the rest of Animal Collective—is when he settles into the trancelike repetitions that grow and change throughout the course of the song. It’s Panda Bear’s forte, but Tare makes it work here, on tracks like “Little Fang” and “A Sender.” The pop know-how is there, but the other elements are not overbearing like much of Tare’s previous work—allowing both consideration and jollification.

You’re something special/ Want you to know you are.”

1. A Sender
The album opens with extraneous synth noise and a startlingly straightforward drumbeat. Anyone expecting the start-stop of Tare’s previous albums, or Animal Collective’s chaotic soundscape. Tare sounds muted compared to his previous incarnations, but it’s not a bad thing. The song is upbeat, catchy, but still steeped in the weird. A highlight is the choral backing vocals, which add a delicate sweetness to the song—be careful not to confuse them as Lennox. The first song’s is an inviting look into the trio’s wacky horror abode. Each member of this band is working with the others, unlike Centipede Hz.7.8
2. Duplex Trip
The muted, warm guitar effect sounds lifted from Ian Williams’ setup, and the song sounds like a similar funhouse waltz akin to later Battles material. ATSF play up the strangeness of being trapped in a puzzling place with Portner’s morphing vocals front and center. Jeremy Hyman’s clopping drums add to the meandering effect of the song, which never fully settles into a distinct feel or structure. This isn’t a terrible thing, as the journey is interesting enough to keep the listener repeatedly asking, “What?” as the song plods along and over again. For a band that is sometimes pretty undirected, sustained interest is half of the battle.7.2
3. Blind Babe
Space effects give way to a furious, tribal drumbeat. This is the album’s most straightforward burner, and Tare gets a little tantric with his vocal delivery (something he attempts on other tracks to lesser success). The song is high energy, and the drums drive against low synth and space effects. Tare yells, “Does she feel it?” over and over, and the backing vocals from Angel Deradoorian create a groove where all parts are simmering. It’s an instance where the coalescing of unlike things brings about something new and novel, still strange.8.2
4. Little Fang
The song is the album’s best: a simple, harmonious, relaxed melody that is instantly infectious, and allows space for Tare to use his voice in service of the music. He sings affirming lines with care and precision: “You’re something special/ Want you to know you are/ You’re something special/ You’ve got to know it’s true,” as bubbling, morphed backing vocals chase the original line. What’s most impressive here is the band’s restraint, as they are content with letting the vibe do most of the song’s work, and though Tare does threaten to get in his own way through repeating the song’s title as many times as he can and with inserting silly “Mr. Kite”-esque sound effects, it’s not enough to take away from the ultimate hang loose the song cultivates through the baseline music.9.0
5. Catchy (Was Contagious)
It’s fair to call this song an exercise in indie Afro-pop a la a weirdo Graceland, as the percussion shifts from electronic to organic tribal-influenced beats while Tare’s modulating voice unintelligibly chants in gibberish. Despite the esoteric nature, “Catchy” is a cut where the elements are working toward the same weird, not fractured and flailing, as what has drowned that sort of experimentation in the past. Like the best earworms, I could very well see myself unknowingly making the melodic noises of the chorus as I swept my apartment, or trudged through town lost in introspection.7.2
6. That It Won’t Grow
A disjointed intro reminiscent of Down There’s more annoying tracks, it’s a bit hard to pin down exactly what’s sonically happening here. When the song settles about a third of the way through, it creates elegance through whispers and hushed electronics. Tare returns to screaming his head off, utilizing the Pixies loudQUIETloud structure, but he’s just not as good at the yowl as some other indie screamers. It’s a minor cut for the album, but showcases some clever dynamics between the three minds making this music, as they are again working together in the noise.7.0
7. The Outlaw
A plodding track, perhaps the album’s weakest. The hammering effect of guitar and drums is rather irritating, and the experimental sound elements (spacey effects and vocal snippets) now seem tired by the album’s seventh track. Tare seems to be doing a 70’s Eno impression with his nasally snarl, but it’s not on point with what’s going on behind it. The song seems to be figuring itself out as it goes along, and standing as the album’s second longest track, that’s a drag. 5.9
8. Roses On the Window
Definitely a warm summer jam. The drums are tight, but relaxed, and Tare is content to drip the vocals instead of spit. The track layers percussion to create disparate times coming together, eventually culminating with cymbal washes mimicking waves and a funky guitar lead unlike anything on the rest of the record. Roses is almost seven minutes long, but it warrants its length through taking the listener on a lazy journey. Every element—vocals, drums, guitar—somehow morphs throughout the track, making the song unfocused, but engaging in its unpredictability. It actually sounds a lot like Dirty Projectors, in that familiar pop is slightly askew, thereby creating something novel just by slight alterations. Tare repeats “be careful” over and over as the track ends, but rarely does he take his own heeding.7.8
9. Modern Days E
Dipping their toes into a bit of dub, this track’s greatest strength is its laze. There’s not a ton getting in the way. Hyman’s drum fills are compact (his woodblock work during the verses apt, as well), and Tare’s subdued delivery suits the island breeze blowing through the music. The nonsensical chorus, “Modern Days E/ Make me craz E” is playful enough, albeit a bit too silly. Deradoorian’s backup vocals are pleasant and make me wish her voice was better utilized in the entire project, instead of wisps coming through when Tare backs away from the microphone.6.5
10. Strange Colores
A tight, Volta-ish beat holds this one together. Tare’s voice fits perfectly within the constricting confines. He begins by singing a few sustained words, letting the crash cadences of the drums and synth build the texture, then he adds on to his own voice, creating a harmonious, manic, mantra chant. The track reads as disco crossed with the psychedelic times of pre-disco, the song cut from a dark place of anachronism and confusion. The song may be the most signature from Slasher Flicks, as it’s hard to think of this cut working channeled through anyone other than a select plugged-in tuned-out few.8.2
11. Your Card
Flashes of horror movie sounds lead into a phasered guitar and galloping drums. Deradoorian’s backing vocals ascend over Tare’s heavily distorted voice. The song strives to be a sort-of human anthem, describing what people do and don’t do with through the repeated phrase “Some folks…” Lyrically, it’s an appropriate choice for the album’s close, but there are some missteps musically. The spacey interlude could only make sense under the most stoned conditions. The fact is that the track is largely absent of the curated mania of the rest of the album, thus the energy putters a bit when it should soar.6.4
Michael McDermit is an artist living in Oregon. He is a contributing member of the My Idea of Fun artist collective and currently teaches writing and literature at the University of Oregon.



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