Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deerhunter-Halcyon Digest

Since breaking through into the indie music scene with their 2007 sophomore album Cryptograms, the Atlanta-based ambient-punk band Deerhunter has become of the most exciting bands in recent years. EPs such as Fluorescent Grey and 2009’s Rainwater Cassette Exchange along with full-length albums in 2008’s Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. has made them darlings of the indie scene while the band was also selected to open for Nine Inch Nails for their 2008 tour on several shows. While side projects such as vocalist Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound and guitarist Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza has kept the group busy. The band continued to tour with other acts while making a new album with famed Animal Collective producer Ben H. Allen for their 2010 album Halcyon Digest.

Written and performed by Deerhunter with production by the band and Ben H. Allen, Halcyon Digest is an album that takes Deerhunter’s hypnotic, dreamy ambient-punk sound to new heights by adding electronic elements to their sound.  With the band, that also includes bassist Josh Fauver and drummer Moses Archuleta, expanding their sound. The record includes appearances from Bill Ogelsby and Chris McPherson to help broaden their sound. Lyrically, Bradford Cox delves into the world of nostalgia and death. Particularly the recent death of garage rock artist Jay Reatard in early 2010. Even as guitarist Lockett Pundt even sings on a couple of tracks to add his takes on the themes of the album. The result is a haunting yet extraordinary album by Deerhunter.

The opening track Earthquake is led by a slow, sputtering drum machine track that is followed by Lockett Pundt’s flourishing guitar wash as Bradford Cox sings in a calm, dreamy vocal. Featuring waves of guitar swirls and esoteric lyrics, the song is definitely a chilling yet shoegaze-inspired opener that delves into the band’s unique, ambient-punk sound. Don’t Cry is a mid-tempo track with driving guitar riffs in both acoustic and electric with a steady, bouncy rhythm section from Moses Archuleta’s drums and Josh Fauver’s bass. The song’s lyrics and Cox’s vocals delve into the loss of teenage innocence as it features a coda that slows the song down with a folky presentation.

The album’s first single Revival is a slow but upbeat mid-tempo track with bouncy rhythms and melodic chimes from guitars and keyboards. Cox’s soothing yet raspy vocals are filled with strange yet ghostly lyrics about nostalgia. Even as it shows the band’s ability to create something that can balance the unconventional with a dose of melodic pop. Sailing is a ballad led by soothing guitar strums by Pundt with warbling background noises as Cox sings in a calm vocal style with ethereal-laden lyrics that is filled with cosmic imagery. Memory Boy is an upbeat, bouncy track led by Pundt’s chime-swirling guitar melodies with chugging strums from Cox as he sings in his soothing rasp. Carried by the sparse but steady rhythm of Archuleta and Fauver, Cox gives the song a nice pop sensibility while it features some troubling lyrics of loss.

Desire Lines is a six-minute, forty-five second mid-tempo track led by Pundt’s melodic-chiming guitar track as he sings the song with his own dreamy vocal style. Featuring Archuleta’s steady yet pummeling mid-tempo drumming, Fauver’s heavy bass line, and Cox’s driving rhythm, the song really belongs to Pundt. Even as the song is filled with swirling guitars that includes an extended guitar solo as it is one of the album’s standout tracks. Basement Scene is a chilling track led by warbling wind sounds, a slow rhythm, and washy guitars as Cox sings haunting lyrics. Filled with nightmarish imagery along with themes of fear, the song can be described as the Everly Brothers meet the Velvet Underground in a grand way.

Helicopter is an electronic-laden track with chiming keyboard flourishes, slow clap beats, and swirling guitar textures. Cox’s esoteric lyrics matched with his somber vocals is really one of the album’s centerpieces. Even as it revels in Cox’s fragile persona as it is one of his best vocal performances with the band joining in to give a slow yet chilling performance with live instruments. Fountain Stairs is a bouncy, upbeat track sung by Pundt as he is accompanied by a calm yet steady rhythm and haunting lyrics. The shoegaze-inspired track is definitely reminiscent of early My Bloody Valentine as it includes a wonderful, wailing guitar solo from Pundt.

Coronado is a strange, upbeat track that features Bill Oglesby on saxophone and Chris McPherson on 12-string guitar. The upbeat yet raucous track has Cox sing in a growling rasp with eerie lyrics about death as it’s a song that revels in the chaotic presentation of the late Alex Chilton. The album closer is He Would Have Laughed which is a seven-and-a-half minute tribute to Jay Reatard. Led by a chiming harps, sputtering electronic-bass tracks, and swooning synthesizers, it is a song that revels in sadness. Featuring Archuleta’s slow, rumbling bass drums, Cox’s vocals as he reveals in the sense of fear and longing as the song features an extended coda of swirling chimes and swooning keyboards that serves as a fitting end with Cox playing an acoustic guitar asking where are his friends.

Halcyon Digest is definitely a marvelous album by Deerhunter featuring some excellent work from Ben H. Allen. Fans of the band will no doubt be happy that the band didn’t stray too far from their previous records while taking on a more streamlined yet hypnotic sound. Even as they add more pop elements that makes it their most accessible record to date. Audiences new to the band will no doubt be amazed by this band though Cryptograms remains their best work so far. In the end, Halcyon Digest is an album that definitely proves that Deerhunter is a band worth seeking out in the age of overly-processed mainstream pop music.

Deerhunter Reviews: Cryptograms - Fluorescent Grey EP - Microcastle - (Weird Era Cont.) - Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP

Related Reviews: (Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Deerhunter/Imaad Wasif-10/14/06 Atlanta, GA Tabernacle) - NIN/Deerhunter-8/13/08 Duluth, GA Gwinnett Arena - (Atlas Sound-Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel) - (Atlas Sound-Logos) - (Lotus Plaza-The Floodlight Collective) - Deerhunter-10/1/10 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

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