Fun houses are never purely fun: It’s entertaining to see your mirror image contorted and stretched out, sure, but it’s also unsettling. Dead House may not be a reference to fun houses, but it certainly shares their über-chromatic, disconcerting aesthetic. Not unlike the unnerving experiments that populate recent records by Liars, the debut of New York four-piece Screens is an album-length flirtation with the dark side of psychedelia.
Two members of Screens have made music in D.C.: former Apes vocalist Breck Brunson and former Medications drummer Andrew Becker. Becker was known for mathy assaults in his former band, but here he trades in clipped, repetitive beats that sound like they’re blasting through the trashed speakers of an ’89 Chevy. The overall aesthetic is similar to Apes’, if more extreme, with Brunson coating his howls in thick slabs of reverb.
From the melancholic piano that opens the album to a cathartic and explosive finale, everything is dark but playful—a rhythmic cauldron of carnival organs and buoyant post-punk. All of this, unfortunately, begins to feel like a slog about halfway through the record. That’s not to say the second half of Dead House is less creative; rather, the ceaselessness of Becker’s distorted hits and Brunson’s minor-key melodies is simply a lot to handle. Sometimes, when the band reins in its horror-movie vibe a bit, catchy moments penetrate through the gritty production. “Cataplexy” is triumphant and almost cheerful; if the volume were lower, the keyboard-driven “Pop Logic” could nearly pass for early-aughts dance rock.
But Screens’ campy noisemaking rarely lets up, which is why, unlike a good carnival attraction, it doesn’t keep you on your toes. The constant tension is fatiguing, and the heavily treated vocals get tiresome. In bursts, though, the band’s turbulent, erratic energy is inspiring. They’d straight-up kill at a house show.