It's hard to believe that this is the sixth album by Deerhunter. When i was unimpressed with their live set back in 2004 (where i first encountered them) i would never have guessed that they would be six albums into their career within 9 years, much less that they would be recording for a label out of the UK. Deerhunter as one of Atlanta's more successful musical exports -- who'd of thunk it?
Well, the band has come a long way from that technologically disastrous night. The members have matured a good bit musically, with both Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt turning into really good song writers.
The thing that stands out to me about Deerhunter releases is the precision with which they are made. The music always sounds so crisp -- every note is in its place and is given enough space to do what the band wants it to do. When the songs are dense, it's because Deerhunter want that density, and when the songs are sparse, it is because Deerhunter want to capture that feeling of open space. Every bit of distortion here is something that was planned. Every odd noise -- they meant those to be there.
That sort of sonic landscape construction is fascinating to me, and it is what defines Deerhunter from my perspective.
So, their sixth album. Dense, layered, noisier than the last record (which i will admit to never really getting in to). Speaking of which, in the intervening time since that last record (2010's Halcyon Digest) both Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt have release albums under their respective side projects, with Pundt's Lotus Plaza album Spooky Action At a Distance in particular being an outstanding release. That album saw Pundt grow a lot as a songwriter, while Cox's 2011 Atlas Sound release Parallax saw Cox venting some of the lounge singerisms that he seemed to be adopting at the end of the '00 decade. Additionally, Deerhunter has changed bassists. The end result is that this is a different band than recorded Halcyon Digest. That might be good or bad depending on your perspective.
Let's take a look at the songs here.
Neon Junkyard kicks the album off with a burst of noise that meanders for a bit, before the guitars come in, overdriven and chugging a loping rhythm. It has a vaguely early 1970s feel that reminds me of Halcyon Digest and Parallax, although a bit more overdriven. But that steady back and forth rhythm is almost neurotic, the way it just keep chugging along... The noise changes and grows, becoming more trebly on Leather Jacket II until eventually the guitars are pounding away with heavy riffing under a ton of distortion. This reminds me of early Deerhunter shows.
The noise fades out and we step into the clear dreampop that Deerhunter do so well. The Missing is Pundt's sole lead vocal on this album, and it fits in neatly with what he was doing on Spooky Action At a Distance. Guitars chime and keyboards groove in layers, while drummer Moses Archuleta keeps a beat so steady it is almost mechanical. This is a bright, sunshiny pop song with great rhythms. Pundt continues to impress.
So after Pundt's dreampop tune, Cox gives us a weird, noisy, distorted rocker with Pensacola. Guitars squeal in tortured layers and Cox sounds like a folk singer, way in front over the guitars, just chanting along. This reminds me of old 1960s psychedelia.
Dream Captain tones down the intense psychedelia and brings in a plinking guitar line from Pundt, while the other guitars squeal in distortion. It's a good song that moves along nicely with pounding, distorted choruses. However, on this song Cox is daring, just daring, the Internet fan community to mashup Deerhunter and Queen. He chants, on the chorus, "I'm a poor boy from a poor family" and someone needs to figure out how to merge that into Bohemian Rhapsody. I mean, why else would Cox use such a well-known line in a popular song? He's daring you, i say. So get to it! Send me links to your Bohemian Captain Dream Rhapsody mashups.
Blue Agent is a pleasant pop song, guitars plinking along on the verses and chiming on the choruses in a manner pretty close to Halcyon Digest. However, those slower choruses with the layers of jangling guitars are really beautiful. T.H.M. is a similar song, but with a really great groove. Cox sings and the guitars tinkle in layers as Archuleta keeps a simple beat, then on the chorus is really grooves with a hip-shaking rhythm and fast guitar arpeggios. This tune never fails to get my head bouncing. However, at the end there is this odd section where Cox is breathing heavily into the microphone, using his deep breath as a type of rhythm. Odd.
Sleepwalking is an old-school Deerhunter tune. This could have been on Cryptograms. It is also, in a way, the closest that the band has ever been to sounding like The Church. The guitar interplay here really reminds me of the way Koppes and Wilson-Piper play off of each other. It's a good mid-tempo rocker.
New guitarist Frankie Boyles really shines on Back to the Middle, which has a simply divine rhythm guitar part. It just grooves along, a happy little song that never fails to get me bopping along.
Guitars squeal and Deerhunter grind through layers of distortion on Monomania, a noisy rocker. It ends with Cox chanting "mono monomania" over and over while the rest of the band pounds their instruments and the music becomes a crazy swirl, a mess of sounds all twirling around the calm focus of his repetitive vocals.
The only mis-step is next. It's called Nitebike and is the third longest song on the record. It consists of a strummed guitar echoing as Cox mutters and moans and croons. This is some bizarre take on folk rock, i think. It works within the overall flow of the record, but when it comes up in random play on my phone, it never works in any other context.
After that slight low point, Deerhunter give us another truly great tune, Punk (La Vie Antérieure). "For a month, I was punk / I remembered all my junk" Cox intones over a catchy rhythm, a nice organ drone, and layers of guitars chugging along. This is another tune with one of those great loping, monotonous Deerhunter beats. So they end the album on a real high note.
Overall, i really like this record. I think that Deerhunter continue to move in interesting directions.