By Emily Votaw
In late 2012, Animal Collective satiated eager fans with “Centipede HZ,” the follow up to 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” an album that had received overwhelmingly positive reviews and gave A.C. their first taste of the Top 20. While “Centipede HZ” presented fans with a gift-wrapped explanation of the band’s devotion to classic indie rock heroes Pavement, those subtle references to classic indie rock came alongside a healthy dose of subpar songwriting that veered violently from the masterful work that went into “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” The album has its high points, moments where the intensity of the album hones into a perfect cone of sonic power that relentlessly fascinates the listener, but those moments are sparse at best.
“Enter the Slasherhouse,” David Portner’s (Animal Collective’s Avey Tare’s) latest side project has all of the campy excitement of “Centipede HZ” and a more developed sense of the sound that pushed “Merriweather” into the upper bracket of the Billboard charts. Portner consistently creates intricate psychedelic noise pop, regardless of whether he is working with the rest of Animal Collective or on his own, and whether or not he takes it one direction or another is really at his discretion. “Down There,” his 2010 solo album, is dark and deliberate, painting the grim realities of isolation, introspection and depression in a palate laden with murder swampy imagery. “Enter the Slasherhouse” embodies yet another fastidious stab at specific imagery, this time cartoon horror alongside concrete allusions to ’90s alternative radio hits, a combination that’s undeniably interesting.
Remnants of Portner’s cartoony inspirations for “Centipede HZ” appear throughout the album, “Blind Babe” and “The Outlaw” taking on motifs that sound so breathtakingly akin to the solidest moments of “Centipede HZ” that you could practically take portions of “Centipede HZ” as some sickly alternative takes of the songs. “Modern Days E” takes the similarity further, depending on soaring, rhythmic bleating to guide the primary melodic lifeline of the song. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it really is. Portner’s fans will be able to immediately hook onto the specific sounds that Portner is recreating.
“Little Fang,” debatably the most accessible track that Portner has ever contributed to, is certainly a gem and one that carries some of that bleary eyed energy that “Centipede HZ” was dipped dyed in. The title itself might be the most perfect summarization of what the album is about; horror without anything that can truly scare more than entertain. The song’s video focuses on a relentlessly adorable Jim Henson puppet that the viewers can’t help but playfully name “Little Fang.” And how can that be honestly scary when the puppet looks like the world’s friendliest monster?
Even the most menacing of vocal samples somehow submits to the sweetness of optimistic melodious vocals and orange-hued melodies. Angel Deradoorian contributes stunning background vocals that take pieces of the album, most notably “Catchy Was Contagious” and “Strange Colores,” and molds them into pieces that sound like they’ve been lifted from “Nuggets” recorded in another universe.
The world that the album creates is full of driving optimism, poppy melodies and an overwhelming anxiety for a full-bodied sound. “Enter the Slasherhouse” does that again and again, occasionally falling prey to the vague weaknesses of “Centipede HZ” but doing so with remarkably less frequency than “Centipede HZ” itself.
“Enter the Slasherhouse” feels decidedly different from anything else that Portner has worked on, all while fitting without argument into the grand scheme of his discography. The album leaves little for fans to complain about and enough oddball psychedelic pop to fend off the yearnings for new Animal Collective material for at least a little while.