opinion by PETER TABAKIS < @ptabakis >
Animal Collective have become something akin to a Marvel Studios franchise – minus the blockbuster sales and broad cultural impact, that is. Like the mighty Avengers of the multiplex, the members of Animal Collective assemble for flagship releases, but also inhabit a shared universe when off adventuring alone. Though the quality of their individual efforts occasionally rivals those of the team, and their quests often go to oddball places, there’s always a heavy whiff of familiarity. Call it sonic world-building. Or, if you’re less generous, call it artistic inertia. I’m caught somewhere in between.
Panda Bear, the group’s Tony Stark, has fared best on his own. Person Pitch and Tomboy remain stunning feats, the latter improving all the more in the last couple of years. And then there’s Avey Tare, the man born Dave Portner, our Bruce Banner in this analogy. Tare flourishes when joined by his Animal Collective comrades, but like the Hulk of the big screen, his side exploits have been less than incredible. Pullhair Rubeye (a collaboration with Kría Brekkan, his wife at the time) is the worst kind of throwaway – an unlistenable album that lacks the briefest flicker of a compelling moment. His solo debut, Down There, sounds like Pet Sounds by comparison. I reviewed Down There favorably back in 2010 and then promptly forgot it. Some fresh listens reveal a leaden misfire. Its many promising ideas – and one great track (“Lucky 1”) – are swallowed in the mire of opaque sounds.
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks is the latest Portner project, a joint venture with Angel Deradoorian and Jeremy Hyman (formerly of Dirty Projectors and Ponytail, respectively). Their inaugural LP Enter the Slasher House, which hews closely to the swirling delirium of Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz, feels more like an extension of his primary band’s work than a unique statement. This is both a feature and a serious flaw. On the plus side, Slasher House was laid down entirely in studio and, as such, doesn’t suffer from the airlessness common to even the strongest Animal Collective composition. Deradoorian’s throbbing keyboard-bass notes give Slasher House its backbone, around which Hyman then adorns ever-shifting and jittery drum fills. But this is Avey Tare’s show, as declared by the band’s name. His songwriting here is manic and immediate, his vocals and melodies confident, nervy, unrelenting.
Unlike Pullhair Rubeye and Down There, Enter the Slasher House contains many fine moments and shows Tare’s focus this time around is on songs, not atmospherics. Its opening trio (“A Sender,” “Duplex Trip,” and “Blind Babe”) deposit hooks as they bend and snake into unexpected places. “Roses on the Window,” a tuneful and relatively straightforward track, provides repose from its chaotic siblings. The shimmering ease of “Little Fang” may, in fact, be flawless. Notably, it would fit better on Ariel Pink’s last album than on Centipede Hz. On the springy “Strange Colores,” Avey Tare seems to confirm the sneaking suspicion that Enter the Slasher House may just be a repository for ideas he hasn’t yet brought to Animal Collective.
About halfway through its runtime, Enter the Slasher House’s nonstop psychedelic assault begins to grow exhausting (admittedly, the same could be said about Centipede Hz). Besides being a bit overstuffed, there’s nothing problematic with “Catchy (Was Contagious),” “That It Won’t Grow,” “The Outlaw,” or “Modern Days E” per se. It’s a flaw of pacing, with too much happening too often and in quick succession. Tare appears oblivious to the listener. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, he recounted a telling anecdote:
Animal Collective's sound guy works with Slasher Flicks too, and on the last tour he said, “It'll take me a couple shows to figure out what's happening here.” I was like, “Really? It sounds so simple and minimal to me.” He was like, “You guys always think everything is so simple and minimal, but it just sounds crazy.”
My heart goes out to that sound guy.
And yet, the campy Scooby Doo spookiness that inspires Slasher Flicks’ aesthetic is so charming and irresistible that Enter the Slasher House regularly succeeds despite its faults. Sure, it’s a lark of an album, to be enjoyed in small doses rather than on repeat. But there wouldn’t be a video for “Little Fang” without it. The cat puppet alone justifies the band’s existence. B-