If the very mention of a phenomenon known as Floor Dancing, of which Panther is a prominent purveyor, does not set you slightly ill-at-ease, the music on his debut, Secret Lawns, surely will. Of course, there will always be those among us who crave music that inflicts itself upon the listener, strident and abrasive music which caters to the rarified tastes of those who enjoy being unsettled. Charlie Salas-Humara—Panther—certainly makes such music, but a definitely fractured, pop-sensibility undeniably lies beneath. There is a focus on primal, subdued hooks, which evinces itself on even his most caustic compositions. And while there is something attractive about contemplating this juxtaposition, any such division is buried beneath the sheer brutality of Secret Lawns.
Many of the tracks on the album seem fragmentary. And while they may in truth stem from simple ideas and the repetition of words and sounds, each song, some more than others, seems taken to its logical conclusion. “You Don’t Want Your Nails Done” spins around a catatonically-soulful falsetto, burning with an immediacy and weirdness which commands attention by force. A mutant version of the revolving sensation from LCD Soundsystem’s “Disco Inflitrator” is matched to Panther channeling Prince through some supremely galvanizing narcotic swirl. At one point the mayhem slows to the tingling of a drum machine, only to be brought back in full force when Salas-Humara dementedly snarls “motherfucker.” It is irresistible. Something subterranean is at work here, something which convincingly beckons us into the inflammatory chaos on display.
Even on a more overtly pop track like “How Does it Feel,” Panther manages to convey his own taste for reassembling the shattered effluvia encompassed in his erratic sensibility. The chorus hook, probably the most accessible on the album, is embedded in stuttering synths and slinky, hardly discernible admonitions. The next track, “Rely on Scent” seems like a lost Minutemen track, playfully cramming a multiplicity of musical ideas into less than two minutes. That tact is taken to an even more extreme place on “Chanzz,” essentially an R&B ballad hacked into pieces and glued back together with an eye for deformity. While Panther emotes, crooning “Give me a chance” and “Why are you messin’ with my destiny,” it careens between top 40 hit and slag heap in a mere minute and twelve seconds.
The most fully realized track is probably the album closer “Tiger’s Touch.” When the synthesizer intro gives way to the opening line, “Don’t touch me baby, you know I’ve got issues,” I can’t help being reminded of Beck singing “Debra.” But if Panther is being ironic as the song begins, it gets deadly serious when the chorus kicks in and soul meets avant-rock processed through an electro-disco filter. That may seem a bit ludicrous, but somehow Panther makes it work; all of the elements, disparate as they may be, are synthesized into a compelling hybrid. The track even manages to fade the album out on a note of grandeur that makes everything that has come before—difficult as it may have been to listen to, much less process—seem like an artistic coup de grâce.
Secret Lawns is the kind of album that evokes, primarily, two responses. The first— resulting from incomprehension and timidity toward all things sonically squalid which also incorporate an obvious fascination with Prince—is repulsion. The latter is whole-hearted acceptance, not in spite of, but because of the incongruous shards of musical history that have been fitted into this grotesquely alluring mosaic.