There’s a weird, paradoxical curse that comes with being in multiple bands. Regardless of the quality of each individual project the musician is in, there will always be comparisons between all of them. People will either complain that so-and-so’s new band sounds exactly like their other one, or that their new solo album is completely different from what they expect and love from them. It’s usually these kinds of criticisms that hit first, and then remarks on the actual songwriting, melodies, lyrics and production that follow later on.
When Julian Casablancas’ solo album dropped, fans ate up his glisteny Disco Pop and critics crawled all over it, but when the next two Strokes albums continued on the same musical trends, everyone completely lost interest, because they wanted the old Strokes back. When Josh Homme formed the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Dave Grohl and Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, the majority of people ignored the fact that the album they created was a sprawling epic with some of the best songwriting Homme had ever done, just because it sounded “too similar” to what fans were used to from Queens of the Stone Age.
Animal Collective is a band that shouldn’t really be susceptible to these kinds of criticisms, not only because they have gone through so many radical changes in their sound, but because their name alone implies that they are less of a band than a group of solo artists working together. So let’s just get this out of the way now: yes, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks sounds a lot like Animal Collective, and their debut album Enter the Slasher House sounds a LOT like Animal Collective’s 2012 album Centipede Hz. And for the most part, that is a very good thing.
The Slasher Flicks were conceived by Tare (birth name Dave Portner) early last year while he had a severe case of strep throat that caused Animal Collective to cancel a significant portion of their tour. The new band is something of a supergroup itself, with former Dirty Projector member, Angel Deradoorian providing backing vocals and bass (via synthesizers) and ex-Ponytail member Jeremy Hyman on drums.
In addition to the sickness, Portner has cited novelty pop music and horror films (obviously) as influences on the album, and these come through not only in the songs themselves, but in the mess of samples that play in the background almost constantly throughout the album. The promotional materials for the album have been goofy and light-hearted, with lots of skulls, puppets, masks, knives and neon colors in all the music videos and band photos. The loopy nature of the Slasher Flicks provides a nice contrast to Portner’s last effort outside of Animal Collective, 2010’s incredibly bleak solo effort Down There.
Opening track “A Sender” begins as most Avey Tare projects do: with aforementioned samples and ambient noise, before a melody slowly begins to take shape. When the drums and vocals burst in, it’s reminiscent of the more melodic stuff from Animal Collective’s 2005 album Feels, but the vibe is ever-so-slightly darker, spookier. Animal Collective has played as a trio before (most notably on 2009’s breakthrough album Merriweather Post Pavillion), but the production is usually so interesting and the synths so wildly intricate that it’s hard to notice.
Here, Portner thrives on the limited sound; much of the album was recorded live and with minimal overdubs. The presence of guitars is also felt more than on probably any other album of his, which provides a refreshing counterbalance to the synthesizers and drum machines that have populated much of his recent catalogue. Fans of The Dirty Projectors and Deradoorian’s solo work might be disappointed by the first few songs, as her presence isn’t felt very much. In fact much of the time, her vocals on the first half of the album are eerily similar to Panda Bear’s backing tracks. But after a few songs that might give listeners Centipede fatigue, she finally gets to shine on “Little Fang”.
This song is particularly interesting, not just because as a lead single, it was rather misrepresentative of the record, but also because it’s probably the closest thing to a real Pop song that Avey Tare has ever written. The shimmery guitars and doo-woppy backing vocals give off a 1960’s Garage Rock vibe, while his lead vocals sound like a slightly angstier version of Ariel Pink, much more subdued than just about anything else on the album. Still, there’s enough weird stuff going on in the background to keep it from being anything radio-friendly.
The second half of the album has more long songs, as well as more notable contributions from Deradoorian. “Roses on the Window” and “Strange Colores” in particular are reminiscent of the Projectors 2009 album Bitte Orca, not just in the vocals, but in the rhythms as well. Hyman’s drumming style remains fairly similar to Panda Bear throughout most of the record, but with a little bit more traditional rock and roll chops to show. These are most notably displayed on “The Outlaw” an epic 6-minute jam that transforms from a creepy sea shanty-like track to psychedelic R&B before culminating in something that almost resembles a Punk song.
While the album flirts with genres like Funk and New Wave, it remains mostly in the weird realm of ghostly alien carnival music that pretty much every Avey Tare album inhabits. Upon first listen, it will probably be disappointing to most fans who were expecting something more unique, but after a few listens, the subtle differences between this band and the rest of his work will begin to show. It’s tantalizing to think what a full on Pop music album from the guy would actually sound like, or how much different the band would be with Deradoorian on lead vocals instead.
No one knows if this band will be a one-off project or if they will reunite to record more in the future. Panda Bear is getting ready to release a new album in the next year, and the Slasher Flicks will be touring throughout the summer, so it will likely be at least another year before Animal Collective gets to work on a new album. Whatever happens, I will be paying close attention, because if nothing else, Dave Portner has solidified himself as one of the most consistent songwriters of modern psychedelic Rock.
Enter The Slasher House (Album Stream):