Posts tagged: Deerhunter

Widowspeak – Almanac

By , February 12, 2013 12:00 pm


Widowspeak – Almanac

Captured Tracks 2013

Rating: 8/10

Widowspeak specializes in a sort of burnt-hued Americana, a nostalgic blend of singer Molly Hamilton’s ethereal heroin-chic aesthetic and the dusty, widescreen guitar-rock courtesy of bandmate Robert Earl Thomas she delicately navigates. For two people, Widowspeak makes an awful lot of noise: guitars whip-cracking smartly along skeletal melodic lines, robust, rattling percussion, a cloud of reverb that seems to have been transplanted straight from Jim James’ silo. Their old homes in Washington never seem too far away, licks and harmonics obscured by the damp and the foggy, a sense of green filling everything up with crackling vitality. It’s curiously obscured provincial music, whether that’s by Hamilton’s melancholy vocals, always seeming to sigh along rather than push forward, or Thomas’s hazy instrumental work, muscular riffs, dyed-in-the-wool rock and chunky blues filtered through a Jesus and Mary Chain-worthy level of fuzz. “I’m afraid that nothing lasts, nothing lasts long enough,” Hamilton moans on opener “Perennials,” a song that belies that sentiment with buildup that seems to revel in its own deathless sounds, the hints of Fleetwood Mac and that thunderous roar that Thomas builds up carefully, cacophonously. Almanac is a more appropriate title than it first appears.

The classic rock influence is more obvious on certain tracks – “Dyed in the Wool,” “The Dark Age,” and “Devil’s Know” all revolve around particularly striking riffs, bluesy and appropriately country-fried – but where Almanac distinguishes Widowspeak not only from its influences but from its own fairly rote past is how it comes across as uncommonly of its own time. Not 2013, really, but something lost and remembered, like how the sinister accordion and echoed halls of “Thick as Thieves” may have you relieving an old Ray Bradbury story. It’s a unique feeling that is achieved through how authentic everything sounds – that aforementioned accordion, the AM fade of campfire sing-along “Minnewaska,” the paranoid psychedelic dissonance and threatening Deerhunter-esque hum of “Storm King” – as well as how Widowspeak distinguishes itself with the attention to detail, to mood and tone, to managing a sound so beautifully out of focus as Almanac is. It’s a wonderful trick that culminates in album centerpiece “Ballad of the Golden Hour,” a runaway train of a track that escalates from an insistent acoustic strum into a watercolor of intertwining steel guitar and Hamilton’s wistful vocals. It’s a lovely, urgent representation of rustic Americana before the chorus, which then proceeds to turn that deceptive guitar motif into something dark and dangerous and desperately urgent, transforming Hamilton’s smoky declaration of “we can never, stay forever” from a lovesick entreaty to a forlorn warning. It’s a song that has its tracks in many different eras and sounds, each as timeless as the next, but never fails to leave an impact that is indelibly its own. Widowspeak’s greatest accomplishment is maintaining that same sense of simmering, uncertain wonder over the course of one wonderfully blurry album.

Widowspeak is an American band comprised of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, known for its dreamy, western-tinged take on rock and roll. Their self-titled debut was praised for its reverential spaciousness, Hamilton's haunting voice, and Thomas's sinister Morricone-esque guitar lines. On their second album, Almanac, the duo explores denser arrangements and new sonic territory, from Saharan rhythms to Appalachian-inspired melodies, all delivered with stoic, wistful restraint.
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Atlas Sound – Parallax

By , November 16, 2011 10:00 am

Atlas Sound – Parallax

4AD Records 2011

Rating: 6/10

Bradford Cox is more comfortable with the lights off. Parallax is proof of that; on the cover of Logos he was pictured faceless, but here he’s in the dark. It feels like a big statement to make- here is a man and his microphone, literally clutching to music- but it also seems like a resoundingly ambiguous one: is this image of Cox stepping out of the shadow, shedding the discomfort that’s put weight on songs like “Agoraphobia,” or is he hiding in it?

For all the ambiguity, Parallax feels like another hiding place. He circulates the happy piano notes of “Te Amo” as some whacky detour from the horrible conversation he is having with himself. Talk about misdirection: “you’re always down.” In a way, “Te Amo” is much like the angriest of Bob Dylan songs, a “Positively Fourth Street” or “Rolling Stone,” in how much of a contradiction it is. Like those songs, it’s practically glowing, the noises moving in a dreamy, euphoric sequence but the lyrics out of step, their delivery chilling and hell, even the distracting album artwork putting the lights out.

The fact that Cox can make a song like this is a testament to how intriguing his career is. Deerhunter could lend themselves Strokes comparisons and little else if it weren’t for the way Cox writes music as conflict. It’s hard to remember Halcyon Digest, a year on, in the way I thought of it then; thinking it was a ‘celebration’ sums up how easy it is to forget the depth in any of Cox’s Deerhunter songs, no matter how comfortable they feel as pop songs. “Coronado” was another one that glowed, but behind the slick sax solos there was a confused man of so many questions and so few answers. That’s the kind of thing that draws you in to the “catchy” Microcastle and Halcyon Digest- the little conflicts- and so how can we not be drawn into the dark spaces in Parallax?

And I certainly am drawn to Parallax. I find it impossible to stop coming back to “Te Amo” and its bittersweet flips of the coin, but at the same time I’m completely intrigued by how impossible Cox makes it to grasp at his intentions on “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs.” The difference, though, is split: “Te Amo” is a working pop song, but I’m not sure Cox wants that so much this time around. Logos had a melodic bent and exciting features that made every adoring indie fan giddy (Panda Bear, say no more), but Parallax is made in some sort of endless vacuum of nothing but Cox.

As a result, it might feel more like a proper album, and maybe even the “comfortable” album we’ve been waiting for Cox to make. But this is only an album in how impossible it is to appreciate out of its context. No “Angel is Broken,” no point in the comedown that follows it in “Terra Incognita.” As for the comfort Cox may have finally found in Parallax, he only finds it in the obscure, the impossible to describe, and the ever-moving. Parallax never stays in one place for too long, regardless of how pretty it remains throughout its entire run. There is no revealing the world behind “Praying Man” or “Parallax” in the same way “Coronado” revealed more than simply a pop genius. Instead, Parallax comes with its own set of intentions, and few of them feel for us.

And for that reason, that lack of inclusion, there’s no rating I can find to do Parallax justice. It feels like a wholly unique masterpiece in ways, perhaps because it is simply impossible to shut off- there’s no turning away from this aching, mysterious music, and even the most basic tracks feel justified by the ominous things happening around the corners. But coming off the open Halcyon Digest, Bradford Cox has turned sharply on his heels for a different type of honesty. And by no means think that because Cox obscures himself he must be disingenuous. That’s never been his problem. But Parallax, unrealised masterpiece or not, sounds like the man in his bedroom with a thousand songs to leave unexplained.

Atlas Sound – “Te Amo”

Atlas Sound – The Shakes

By , November 8, 2011 10:00 am

Deerhunter frontman, prolific songwriter and general oddball Bradford Cox’s side project Atlas Sound releases their third album today, and for those who thought Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest was one of 2010′s best, chances are you’ll really dig Parallax. It mines the same experimental vein of indie rock that Cox has been perfecting with Deerhunter, throwing in a bit more shades of weird than the classic rock-indebted Halcyon Digest showed. You wouldn’t know it from “The Shakes,” the accessible opening track off Parallax that reminds me of tracks like “Revival” and “Coronado” off Halcyon Digest. All in all, a compelling new release from one of indie rock’s more fearless personalities.

Atlas Sound – “The Shakes”

Best of 2010

By , December 30, 2010 8:00 am

Happy holidays everyone. Below are my Top 20 of 2010, chosen using a complex statistical formula and thousands of man-hours. Anyone who wants to party with the Klap for New Year’s 2011 should come to the wonderful, wholesome city of Las Vegas. See you all in the new year.


Simian Mobile Disco – Delicacies

+1 Records

Released: November 30

Outstanding food concept notwithstanding, Delicacies is a delicious tech-house treat, all weirded-out bleeps and ghostly bloops that are at times incredibly creepy and others strangely bouncy. I have no idea how this is going to translate live (probably with a healthy dose of psychedelics), but after last year’s weak pop outing, Simian is back on track here.


Delta Spirit – History From Below


Released: June 8

It’s always a pleasure to see a band grow, and combining that with one of my favorite genres in Americana makes History From Below one of the year’s most exciting releases. Much of the credit must go to singer Matthew Vasquez, whose growth into a true barroom singer is remarkable.


Four Tet – There Is Love In You


Released: January 26

There’s always bound to be some repetition in an IDM release, and it’s what usually turns me off on the genre, but Four Tet has truly created a masterpiece with his seventh album, one that has a definite organic quality to it that adds a vibrant layer to the discordant loops and drum samples that make up his work. It’s dense and challenging at times, but it never ceases to be enjoyable.


Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard


Released: August 24

Beating Vampire Weekend at their own game, Ra Ra Riot avoid the sophomore slump by slowing things down and bringing out the best in the band – Wes Miles’ brilliant vocals, the warm dimension the strings bring to their sound, and drummer Gabriel Duquette’s unheralded rhythm work that ties everything together.


Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Dead Oceans

Released: May 11

In an off year for alt-country Matt Houck stepped up to the plate and delivered a straightforward home run, all muscular slide guitar and folky twang. But the best part is Houck’s melodies, which are fleshed out and given new life with the colorful compositions offered by his expanded sound.


Serena Maneesh – No. 2: Abyss in B Minor

4AD Records

Released: March 23

Criminally overlooked shoegaze out of Norway, Serena Maneesh crafted some of the strangest, most endearing music of the year. This isn’t your older brother’s shoegaze; this plain rocks, with angular riffs and thudding bass lines seemingly more suited for prog than pop. But for all its oddness, it’s an album that refuses to be ignored, and I’d gladly take this over the Ambien most shoegaze bands proffer up nowadays.


Spoon – Transference

Merge Records

Released: January 19

It speaks to Spoon’s consistency that I consider a #14 finish an off year for them. Transference finds the band more comfortable with their own sound than ever before, relishing in the live environment the album was created in and even letting their ties loose a little bit, meandering about on songs like “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You.” It’s not as consistent as previous releases, but it doesn’t have to be – Spoon like where they are, and they sound damn fine with it.


Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing


Released: May 4

Paul Sprangers sings about girls and summer love and absolutely nothing of higher import because, frankly, that’s all he wants to sing about. It’s unfortunate that Stuck on Nothing was released in the spring, because it’s a summer record through and through. Beach cruising, salty air and salty hair, bikinis, breezy car trips, pool parties, Slurpees that always seem too damn drippy, the smell of tanning lotion, sand that will stay in my car for way too many months, days and days of doing whatever the hell you want – Free Energy have made a soundtrack for all of these things, and made it seem effortless in the bargain.


Rogue Wave – Permalight

Brushfire Records

Released: March 2

Permalight came out at just the right time for me, lifting me out of the February doldrums with passionate, high-energy indie pop that seemed all too easy and potentially canned. But there was something about Permalight that made me look past its clichéd sentiments and sometimes drab choruses – this is a record that was positively sunny, one that bared all without shame or any sense of self-consciousness, and was the better for it. If I want to be happy, I listen to this.


Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Def Jam

Released: July 11

This was a banner year for big name rappers, and Big Boi was no exception – up until November The Son of Chico Dusty was the rap record of the year, and another bit of evidence to suggest that maybe Outkast wasn’t all Andre 3000’s show (where the hell has that guy been, anyway?). Southern rap has never been this enjoyable and innovative.


Steel Train – Steel Train


Released: June 29

Along with Free Energy, Steel Train showed me that sometimes, good rock ‘n roll can be just that; no gimmicks, no existentialist musings, no 20-minute-plus compositions swollen with strings and harps and timpani. Steel Train put their money down on ace melodies and that simple trifecta of rock: guitar, bass, drums. They only come out with some of the best songs of the year, sugary offerings that are no less potent because they revel in their hooks and sing-a-long capabilities. Not to mention a song of the year in the heartrending “Fall Asleep.”


The Black Keys – Brothers


Released: May 18

Speaking of good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, The Black Keys are back to doing what they do best on Brothers. It’s hard-hitting, bluesy rock ‘n roll; bluesy like the delta, bluesy like the Sun Studio in the early ‘60s, and Brothers is nothing if not a painstakingly well made time capsule by two of the best musicians in the business. Few bands can sound like they come from another era, but the Black Keys pull it off with ease.


Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Def Jam

Released: November 22

I like to use Kanye West’s own Twitter to describe My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: “”This is rock and roll life my people . . . you can’t stop the truth you can’t stop the music and I have to be strong or ‘they’ win!!!;” “I can’t be everybody’s hero and villain savior and sinner Christian and anti Christ!;” “I have decided to become the best rapper of all time! I put it on my things to do in this lifetime list!” Besides an abundance of exclamation points, Kanye’s often hilarious Twitter is everything that made his newest album such a masterpiece, from his Christ complex to his feuding with the media to his undeniable artistic brilliance. Guy might be a little crazy, but weren’t all the best a bit off?


Wolf Parade – Expo 86

Sub Pop

Released: June 29

Maybe Wolf Parade will never be able to recapture that spastic one-off brilliance that was their debut, but Expo 86 proves that maybe they don’t need to. It’s the band’s most cohesive collection of tracks to date, successfully ranging from Krug’s typically obtuse offerings to Boeckner’s more pop-oriented rock tunes. Most of all, it proves that Wolf Parade are still the visionary songwriters we thought we lost with At Mount Zoomer, and that’s a relief.


The National – High Violet

4AD Records

Released: May 11

My road to finally realizing High Violet was right up there with Boxer and Alligator was a long one, and it took me until a long road trip six months after its release to see it for what it was: what I initially saw as boring and uninspired was actually a more mellow National, one less prone to emotional outbursts and not quite as energetic, but a wiser National, one who had a firmer grip on life’s realities and even more questions about it. It’s a fascinating listen, built around Matt Berninger’s wry observations and Bryan Devendorf’s continually amazing drumming, and a more confident record than anything the National have done to date.


Noisia – Split the Atom

Indie Europe/Zoom (Import)

Released: November 30 (USA)

Noisia’s first proper LP is a shining example of everything good that can happen when a groundbreaking trio mashes all their influences together and produces something truly original. Split the Atom has it all: breaks, electro, drum n bass, funk, house, et cetera. It’s a mishmash of styles that never seems like it’s about to collapse – the Dutch group have collected everything they admire about electronica and make it their own. Noisia are not afraid to take some risks, and Split the Atom promises to be the first in a long line of relentless, heart-stopping party starters.


The Walkmen – Lisbon

Fat Possum

Released: September 14

“I am a good man by any count / and I see better things to come” Hamilton Leithauser sings on opener “Juveniles,” and if there’s a better mission statement for Lisbon I haven’t found it. This is the sound of the Walkmen settling into a sweet spot, building on the rich palette of sounds they cooked up on 2008’s You & Me and imbuing it with a sense of warmth and a pleasant glow that pervades all the material here and lies in stark contrast to the band’s earlier material, which was as fiery and tense as their hometown of New York City. The National might get all the hype for being the next great American rock band, but the Walkmen would have something to say about that.


The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Dead Oceans

Released: April 13

With a voice that only a Billy Corgan could love (at least at first), Sweden’s Kristian Matsson’s sophomore record was an unlikely album of the year contender. Built almost entirely on whispery guitar licks and Matsson’s screechy vocals was a complicated web of melodies and deeply personal lyrics. The Wild Hunt is a triumph not because it polishes everything that made Shallow Grave great but because of the mood it sets. From “You’re Going Back” to “Trouble Will Be Gone” to, most noticeably, “King of Spain,” The Wild Hunt is an unbridled expression of joy, made all the more powerful by its sparse instrumentation and Matsson’s cheerfully abrasive vocals.


Jonsi – Go

XL Recordings

Released: April 6

What I love about Go is it’s like Jonsi took all those nine-minute-plus Hopelandic epics and compressed them into the perfect four-minute pop song. Like Jonsi himself, everything about Go screams outsized; from Nico Muhly’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production to the hooks, which scream rainbows and unicorns and sweet, sweet honey. But it’s Jonsi and his angelic voice that really holds everything together, connecting on an almost primal level as its own instrument of unadulterated happiness. Go is a transparent record in its gaiety, with no hidden meanings or any subtext beyond a celebration of life. That’s what makes it great.


Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

4AD Records

Released: September 28

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Halcyon Digest was just how warm everything sounded. Whereas Bradford Cox and company’s earlier work tended to be unwieldy messes of noise thrown loosely under the shoegaze label, Halcyon Digest continued what 2008’s Microcastle begun: transforming Deerhunter into a full-fledged rock band, feet firmly planted in pop territory and beckoning us to just relax and enjoy. When I first heard “Revival” I was astonished at just how straightforward everything was, how easy it was to connect to a band I previously had regarded as somewhat cold. But things aren’t just direct; there’s a depth to these songs that, coming from Cox, is not much of a surprise, but makes Halcyon Digest something more than just a really good rock album.

Songs like the self-destructing “Desire Lines” and the gorgeous dream of “Helicopter” seem like the new classic rock, all substance and style without a tipping of the scales one way or the other. “Coronado” is the best Strokes song since Is This It. “He Would Have Laughed” might be the most tragic song of the year, but it’s spindly buildup and cathartic ending seem positively joyful. Halcyon Digest is a record that seems destined to stand the test of time, constructed as it is out of the timeless building blocks of music: guitar, bass, vocals and drums, all done so effortlessly that it’s hard to believe Deerhunter have been doing this for years. In a way, of course, they have, but never so refined, so at ease. For Cox, someone who’s constantly fidgeting around with demos and side projects, hearing him buckle down and produce a whole album’s worth of immediately arresting music is a relief. Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter’s most deft accomplishment yet, and they’ve done it not with bells or whistles or 20-minute-plus compositions but by writing perfect rock ‘n roll, pure and simple.

Deerhunter – Coronado

By , September 27, 2010 8:00 am

Guitars! Drums! Saxophone! I’ve never been a huge Deerhunter fan, but Halcyon Digest, their latest, is one of the best new releases of the year, striking a tasty mix between classic rock and modern indie. “Coronado” sounds a hell of a lot like the Strokes and I don’t even care because it’s so damn good. Get the album.

Deerhunter – “Coronado”

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

By , September 21, 2010 8:00 am

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

4AD 2010

Rating: 9/10

As someone with a habit for music and an even grosser habit for enthusiasm, there’s something about writing on a favourite band- and with Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter have cemented themselves as one- that makes me feel like I’m playing in a tribute band. I could set up in a pub with a few balding dads this evening and we could rework my favourite indie rock tunes; we’ve got me and my woeful vocal skills, a sloppy drummer with decadent sunglasses and the other guys who ‘like that song’ and have a guitar perched on their office desk. It used to be a reminder of unfulfilled dreams, but no more! And hey, aside from the guy in the corner telling me to keep my day job (or rather, wondering when I’ll get one), I’d be on a parallel plane. I already do the things tribute-acts do: I make bad jokes (we’re the band who never stops) and I do my idol next to no justice. But does it matter? Does it matter that no one in this damned pub is listening to us? Surely it just matters that I said it; I love this band. So meet mine. We’re the Microcastles.

But I can tell you right now that we’re no ordinary suck-fest; we flat out can’t do Deerhunter. And that’s because Deerhunter isn’t a pub band. They couldn’t pull off being the background hum and no matter how hard they tried they wouldn’t go two measly seconds without turning heads. Halcyon Digest, their fourth full-length exploration into the world of fuzz and pop, makes that a dead cert. Again Deerhunter refresh us with every song, and again they get us to crank our neck around so we can see their newest tricks- even if there aren’t any, they have great sleight of hand. 2010’s record follows swiftly on the heels of the vibrant Microcastle and drains all the colour, greying out the landscape for something just the same but, in some crazy paradox, completely different.

Halcyon Digest still buzzes like a Deerhunter record, with songs of similar ilk (you could pair “Sailing” and “Microcastle,” for instance) but with a nerve so radically different it’s hard to know what’s happened. What has happened to Deerhunter? It’s not the concepts the record runs by- Halcyon Digest harkens back to memories good and bad, but made up- nor is it the steps sideways in music, although the Strokes-influenced “Coronado” makes a case for the band keeping a saxophonist full-time. In the end, it’s that this album has no real direction, and for a band with a front man who never writes lyrics in advance and makes music so organically, five years seems like enough time to make an album both effortless and perfect. Halcyon Digest isn’t conflicted for its shifts in music or emotion, it’s delighted for it.

At it’s most daunting, Halcyon Digest is still a pop album. In this sense, maybe it’s no different from Microcastle- the album focus “Desire Lines” self-destructs just as “Nothing Ever Happens” did, after all. But there’s something so of-its-own about Halcyon Digest, something to take bored shoegazers aback. Even those who were expecting Deerhunter to write something wildly different to this (as I did) will be overwhelmed, and for the personality of it alone; eleven songs with lives of their own, joyous or raucous, ditzy or adventurous.

It suits a band with four guys; dreamy ambient ballads like “Earthquake” and the gorgeous “Helicopter” get us thinking we’re floating with Cox’s Atlas Sound, but the record is in upheaval around these markers. Lockett Pundt shows just how good he can be beyond The Floodlight Collective. When given a voice- one dustier and deeper than his best pal- this guy reveals dimensions the band never knew, going in blazing on the post-punk of “Desire Lines” before the song deflates into smoky solos. This is his moment, surely, and when every creative force plays with such assurance, the music comes second nature. Halcyon Digest as a result is the most accomplished, confident Deerhunter record made, contented in stream-of-consciousness narrative and music that never wants to end, be it the refusal on “Desire Lines” or the scatterbrained Cox on “He Would Have Laughed.” Deerhunter is basking.

That’s enough for me; sure, like previous records, Halcyon Digest scales influences and plays to them, but the band don’t have any interest in being the Velvet Underground or My Bloody Valentine anymore. And Deerhunter aren’t even willing to explode; Cox, Pundt and co. aren’t writing something of grand consequence, even if the record results in the same way. They don’t have to write pop songs but give in to a couple along the way, with the perfect “Revival” and “Fountain Stairs” products, if you could call them that. Not that these are the best tracks, anyway- the best ones meander into the next until finally we fall in with “He Would Have Laughed,” a Cox penned tribute to the late Jay Reatard and the longest track on the record with the most grandeur because of it. But it falls out with us first, drifting away from Cox’s jittery plucking into assured obscurity. Cox doesn’t seem to care that his song escaped him three minutes earlier.

And I have to ask, who else could write indie rock quite like this? When bands grow older they settle; Arcade Fire did this year with The Suburbs and Animal Collective put their troubles to bed last year, but has anyone’s music settled as well as this quaint Georgian quartet? Who other than Deerhunter would let their music fall out of their grasp? Halcyon Digest is huge but just as effortless, conceptualised but just as spontaneous. Deerhunter fans will love it, if for no other reason than it is their favourite band falling on their feet. Without trying. And all in all, you can’t express something like that. I can’t tell you why that’s so great- how could I? How am I supposed to tell you what makes Halcyon Digest so great?

I’m quitting the band. Don’t own an amplifier, anyway.

Deerhunter – “Revival”

Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter's fourth album and their first to be released on 4AD worldwide. The album was recorded in at Chase Park Transduction Studios in Deerhunter's hometown of Athens, GA with the band self-producing and Ben Allen enlisted to mix it (he also worked on Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion).
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