Panther – Secret Lawns

Panther
Secret Lawns

Who would have thought a lowly rock crit like myself would have something in common with Charlie Salas-Humara. Turns out we’re both Panthers. You see, as a graduate of a suburban high school with a heroin problem lo those many years ago I was a panther. Well, in the sense that it was our school mascot. But Salas-Humara is Panther. Where one of us was a panther trying to escape it’s confines, the other sounds as though there is a beast within trying to escape. What does this have to do with Secret Lawns, the full length debut form the Portland, Oregon? Not much really but when you run into something this unique you gotta run with what you can.

Panther creates some of the most messed up music to stick in your head. Over layers of dance rock beats and synthesizers Salas-Humara screams and howls like a caged animal. Take the opening song, “Use Your Mouth Your Breath To Breath” where the first sound you hear out of his mouth is a low moan as if he truly is possessed by some foreign demon. From that we’re off into his trademark falsetto that will work with him as an instrument as much as any drum machine.

Few artists can use their unique voice as a primary instrument. Much in the way that Clapton or Santana use their abilities on guitar (though usually for the forces of evil) Panther uses that falsetto to propel the songs into other realms. Comparisons to Prince are rightfully in order but where Panther actually uses this talent better is in the use of the word “motherfucker.” When you have such a “gift” it just begs you to use it to pronounce it in as many ways possible. Usually preceded by an “ow!” Think Ian Sevonious as another great motherfucker-er. Panther doesn’t over-use this ability as much as one could which keeps it all in check.

With that in mind there are also plenty of tricks used to keep Secret Lawns from getting old. The chorus of “How Does It Feel?” combines the synths and vocals to great effect, causing you to think the 80s did have a few bright moments. The range of influences are all over the map. One song utilizes an old school drum machine where another employs a stuttering vocal line reminiscent of something of off Faust IV. Beats are broken up and thrown against each other, staggering to compete much like what Autechre does. The fact Panther takes such difficult ideas and puts them into a danceable, funky, catchy mess is pretty remarkable.

Ultimately you could call what Salas-Humara does many different names. Dance punk is what the kids are all about these days and sharing a stage with !!! wouldn’t be unfathomable. Nor would it be odd to think of him performing along side The Gossip, which he’s done, or any number of artists on KRS. With such a mish-mash of sounds it could be called electro soul, electro punk, or really just plain fucked up. But if it’s the last one, Panther would be the first to tell you. And you’d be more than willing to believe him.