October 14, 2010

Test Spins: Deerhunter

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Naming your record Halcyon Digest predicates some very simple facts about its contents: first and foremost, that it will be tranquil. Despite stories of ruckus-filled live shows played whilst covered in blood, Deerhunter are one of the few bands around these days dedicated to the sort of atmospheric layering that would induce feelings of tranquility, with records such as Crytograms and Microcastles earning them critical praise for their efforts. This is not to say that they are defanged or overly focused on creating impenetrable soundscapes; the band shows a classicist focus on pop that others in the genre could well learn from.

Opener “Earthquake” begins with lead singer Bradford Cox asking, “Do you remember waking up on a dirty couch?” over a simple arpeggiated figure before his vocals are swallowed by bubbling guitars, which rise to a fever pitch before cutting out and building up again. Deerhunter’s patience in developing themes allows the listener to bask in the beautiful guitar sounds as melodies, like the five-bar-phrased guitar solo in “Desire Lines” or the gorgeous tones of standout track “Helicopter”.  The expansive sonic palette is not merely limited to guitars; “Coronado” features Exile on Main Street-influenced piano and saxophone. Lyrically, Cox is preoccupied with memory and childhood, asking lots of questions about the past and lamenting the passage of time in “Memory Boy” and paying tribute to recently deceased indie rocker Jay Reatard with “He Would Have Laughed”, a texturally dense number that ponders the futility of aging (“only bored as I get older”) amongst swaths of reverberating drums and guitars. The theme of nostalgia extends to the vocal melodies: several of the songs, including “Don’t Cry,” “Revival” and “Fountain Stairs,” sound like 21st century versions of the Byrds or Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd. The familiarity of the melodies combined with the bands impressive and effective sonic experimentation makes for songs that comfortably guide the listener into unmarked territory.

Halcyon Digest sees the band evolving and creating dense, nostalgia-inducing pop music that sounds classic upon first listen. The band’s incorporation of disparate strains of pop makes the music nigh unclassifiable; their combination of ’60s psych-pop, ’90s shoegaze and modern indie rock has begotten a record that owes much more to the band’s adherence to an individual, cohesive vision than to the influence of others. The results are a classic, hazy record that may prove to be one of the best indie rock releases of the year.


Original Author: James Rainis