Anyone who’s seen ODDSAC, the 2010 visual album from Animal Collective, should be able to gather that Avey Tare and his friends have a pretty healthy relationship with horror films. Not that the thing was exclusively creepy, but there were lingering shots of walls oozing with a blood-adjacent substance, a vampiric entity wandering through a dark forest, bursts of unexpected noise to make you jump, and close-ups on unidentifiable organic matter to make you squirm. But then again, much like their music (think the meow-ing end of “Leaf House”), there was also an element of the cartoon-ish, something childlike that made the scares that much more thrilling, but also brought some genuine joy to the proceedings. So, no one should’ve been much surprised when Dave Portner called his new side project Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, nor when in a recent interview he cited the “Monster Mash” as a particular source of inspiration. But while the debut album from that project, Enter the Slasher House, does show obvious influences from cartoon horror, it rarely reaches the actual darkness of his past solo material that explored the horrors of real life, nor their cartoon-y brain-warp.
Told that one of Portner’s solo albums was directly influenced by horror films, it’s likely that Down There would come up much more quickly than Slasher House. Opening on a robotic iteration of the album’s title, a manic near-laugh, and a drowning spoken word sample, Down There proceeds to get stuck in all sorts of swamp, Portner excavating his feelings (directly and indirectly) on his recent divorce, the passing of his grandmother, and his sister’s fight with cancer. Compare that, then, with “A Sender”, the opener here. Sure, that synth intro has a squared bass ripple, and Portner’s moaning a bit as the bulk of the song comes into view, but former Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman’s hopping 4/4 toms are anything but menacing, former Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian’s yeah-yeah backing vocals couldn’t be called spooky, and Portner’s lyrics about taking “us on a whole new ride” sound downright inviting. Heck, he mentions “spirits that will help you.”
Later, “The Outlaw” goes more for the throat in its horror trope ambitions, minor key screw turning and Gremlin-y yelping noises cluttering around a meandering hook that has none of the gleam of the one employed by the killer in I Know What You Did Last Summer. “That It Won’t Grow” edges up on the eerie on its verses, Portner eschewing the throat-shredding howls that dominate the record for a fuzz-doubled whispering, but the thump-and-twinkle chorus (despite its lyrical intimations of insanity) and that returned shout light up all too brightly.
So, perhaps then the cartoon-y end of the spectrum gets more than its fair share of the attention on the album. The truly great tracks on Slasher House all give barely a sidelong glance at the horror business, musically. “Little Fang” is an absolute jam that fully utilizes the intersection of smooth ’70s rock and Animal Collective, and the lyrics are adorably uplifting. The suggestion to “embrace your darkness” and not be ashamed could, theoretically, be the creepy element, but that’s a shade of gray. The frenetic rhythms of “Blind Babe” make for solid backing for Portner’s spitfire vocals, but Deradoorian’s backing vocals provide the perfect counterpoint, the role Panda Bear would’ve taken were this reserved for that band. The bombastic “Strange Colores” is the song that’ll get the crowd going with its hip-hop-indebted beat and exhilarating shout-along chorus.
Avey Tare saying he’s inspired by horror films doesn’t mean the album’s a failure if it’s not scary. But then the truly big, effective melodies are nowhere near as concentrated as Portner’s proven himself capable. And then there are the scattered, twisted samples meant to indulge the horror intentions, but rarely entirely integrated into the music. While the album is undoubtedly fun and includes a few absolute gems, this mismatch makes Slasher House a middling success.
Essential Tracks: “Little Fang”, “Blind Babe”, and “Strange Colores”