Picking a path between Bradford Cox's dreamy solo work and their fierier moments with deft pose
Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, is it? With glo-fi’s explosion we’re suddenly awash with tender feelings for a past that never was, but deep down we know it’s an artifice; a lie cooked up in the sad chambers of the post-lapsarian human brain. [b]Bradford Cox[/b] understands all this. He’s even built an album around your pain; a sensual lament on “the way we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember”.
With [a]Deerhunter[/a] and solo project [a]Atlas Sound[/a], the Atlanta, GA musician is fast inking pages on the American underground’s latest great songbook. A death-obsessed outsider like [b]Cocteau’s Orpheus[/b] without the jawline, he makes pop abstractions of a fiercely introspective bent. Left to his own devices, Cox’s looped FX can sometimes see him vanish completely in a kind of infinite, hall-of-mirrors regress. But if the ‘shoegaze punk’ of [a]Deerhunter[/a] is traditionally his more straightforward outlet, fourth album [b]‘Halcyon Digest’[/b] sees the boundaries between the two projects blur increasingly.
Gone is the explicit menace of [b]‘Cryptograms’[/b] and the bluster of [b]‘’Microcastle’[/b], replaced by hazy tracks like opener [b]‘Earthquake’[/b], which slopes in on a crunching, lugubrious beat before unfolding as an epic number in [a]Atlas Sound[/a]’s compass-spinning vein. It’s lush but not especially immediate, with more than a little of the ghost-choir feel of [a]10cc[/a]’s [b]‘I’m Not In Love’[/b]. Meanwhile [b]‘Sailing’[/b]’s spindly ramble recalls [a]Sparklehorse[/a]’s freewheeling melancholy, and stand-out [b]‘Helicopter’[/b] uses soft, splashy textures to create a rainbow panorama of electro-acoustic beauty, like mist suspended over a waterfall.
The punchier tracks are shorter and more unassuming than before, and the band sometimes feels a little too tethered to a kind of stilted indie freakbeat to fully flex its formidable powers. Not that we’ll complain when it results in songs as beautifully restrained as single [b]‘Revival’[/b], whose swinging, ’50s pop sparkles like coins in a wishing well, with a lyric that draws disturbing lines between memory and religious feeling. [b]‘Memory Boy’[/b] is similarly good, its Spectorite exuberance masking yet another lost-boy lyric from Cox ([i]“Try to recognise your son/In your eyes, he’s gone”[/i]), while guitarist [b]Lockett Pundt[/b] steps in for vocal duties on [b]‘Desire Lines’’[/b] kraut-laced Roxy Music jam.
Finally [i]‘He Would Have Laughed’[/i] finds Cox staring down the spectre of death, sounding by turns angry, sad and bewildered as he pays touching tribute to late friend [a]Jay Reatard[/a] over a refractive acoustic loop: [i]“With sweetness comes suffering/I won’t rest ’til I can’t breathe/I can’t breathe with you looking at me”[/i].
For all its occasional lack of bite and drama, [b]‘Halcyon Digest’[/b]’s tender, transgressive
pop proves a fine and focused addition to a uniquely haunting body of work. Cherish it like you would a phantom limb.
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‘Halcyon Digest’ from Rough Trade Shops.