By Andrew Binet
Deerhunter’s eclectic fourth LP enthralls as it explores themes of nostalgia and discovery. Doing away, to a certain extent, with the harsh fuzz of previous records, Microcastle and Cryptograms, Halcyon Digest embraces the lilting electronics of singer Bradford Cox’s solo project, Atlas Sound, and the lofty reverb of guitarist Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza.
The album took it’s public debut in the form of a marketing campaign whereby fans were encouraged to print, photocopy, and display vintage-style band posters – it’s in the same vein as the nostalgia evoked by vintage/”found” photos gracing the covers of Vampire Weekend and Wolf Parade albums. A preoccupation with the past is emblematic of the tone of the album, which, while upbeat at times, leaves you feeling that while something has been gained, something in the back of your mind has been lost.
Cox, in an online interview, said that “Halcyon Digest is a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones, like my friendship with Ricky Wilson [Atlanta-born guitarist of the B-52’s] or the fact that I live in an abandoned Victorian autoharp factory. The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that’s kind of sad.”
The jangly and exciting, “Revival,” brings the listener firmly into the exuberance of Cox’s nostalgia and is one of the album’s stand-out songs. Dreamy “Helicopter” is beautiful, blending the styles of Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza to outstanding effect. “Take my hand and pray with me,” says Cox as he leads the listener into a misty alter-reality where the bleak tale of a Russian prostitute is told to the tune of a dubby bassline, Pundt’s tingling guitar and water noises a la Animal Collective.
A broadened range of instrumentation adds a great deal to the album. The saxophone that anchors “Coronado”, a jumping, dynamic late-album standout raising one last fist against all those “people that need a paycheck.”
If in “Coronado” the theme of growing older and the accompanying confusion and uncertainty emerges, it finally boils to the surface in the album’s final song, “He Would Have Laughed,” a lush and lengthy electro-acoustic tribute to late garage-rocker Jay Reatard. “I get bored as I get older. Can you help me figure this out?” asks Cox as the song slows and the sentences become fragmentary, twisting back and forth between incredulous memories before the album ends abruptly mid-note.
Halcyon Digest exhibits a more mature Deerhunter. The rush that accompanies the start of Microcastle is lost, but in its place is a more diverse style and lyrical intimacy.
By Martha Mcarey
Does it look like I’m here?
(Editions Mego, 2010)
any are made quite uncomfortable by the prospect of climbing into their brain or someone else’s. There is, on the one hand, the music that operates by suggestion and leads you to wander into your darkest recesses. Leonard Cohen’s “Master song” calls for this kind of mischief every single time it is played. On the other hand some albums will appear like the fully formed and somewhat hermetic artist’s experience, too grotesque or specific to spill into the listener’s subconscious, a little like Tom Wait’s epic tales of booze-soaked one-street towns.
Emeralds, the trio of Mark McGuire, John Elliot and Steve Hauschildt, released its entirely instrumental droning masterpiece, Does It Look Like I’m Here?, earlier this summer. It has the happy effect of taking you up and beyond, swirling outside yourself, by its own momentum.
The first notes of “candy shoppe” conjure an early, hazy evening standing still, looking out onto a street watching the streetlamps and bar fronts turn on and tram cables spark in accelerated motion. Later on, “Double Helix” brings in harsh keyboard pattern, while guitar chords soften the musical loop and slightly syncopate its rhythm. The sprawling “Genetic” brings up Kraftwerk’s electronic epics and once again slips in a softer guitar riff, which evolves into heavy distortion to spiral into its own rhythm. “Goes By” and its flute-tinged drone evoke fleeting moments of inexplicable piece, before the title track breaks into the auditory equivalent of a snowstorm that slaps your face raw and leads to utter disorientation.
“It Doesn’t Arrive” could be the circling of a helicopter or the repetitive motion of cars and trains sweeping by on a fast lane, but certainly echoes a movement which never quite dies out. The glittering keyboards and strumming guitars of “Now You See Me” build into a lulling motif which the final song “Access Granted” takes up and fades into the album’s close. The music strangely doesn’t follow the listener around, but on ending induces a gentle awakening and the distant memory of its having passed.