May 4, 2013

Album Review: Deerhunter's Monomania

Predicting the next step of Bradford Cox is no easier than guessing where a fly might land on a wall, and as the wildy eccentric frontman has poured every ounce of his time and life into both Deerhunter and Atlas Sound projects over the past several years, he’s also blurred the lines between each – if not the only difference being that Deerhunter is his “band” while Atlas Sound is his “solo project.” Cox is a theatrical personality whose beautifully damaged psyche always finds a way to drift its way into music news fodder for better or for worse as well, with the past year in particular manifesting across every possible medium and adding memorable oddball anecdotes to the Athens songwriter's legacy to entertain. In 2012, his over-reaction to a smart aleck at an Atlas Sound show resulted in him covering the Knack’s “My Sharona” for an hour in the name of punk. He was later cast as the cross-dressing lover opposite Jared Leto in his first feature length acting role, and recently, Deerhunter’s visit to the small screen on Fallon left the Internet abuzz thanks to his dangerous-looking new persona Connie Lungpin that took full advantage of the live taping scenario.

Living out "punk” seems to more important than ever to Cox’s work these days, as with Deerhunter, he’s turned to it as the driving force of inspiration behind their sixth LP Monomania. What "punk" exactly means is always hotly contested, but in Cox's world, it's along the lines of uglying up the production, writing abrasive music for the sake of sounding caustic and parlaying that sound into an inflammatory depiction of one's self. It’s a startling contrast to where Cox was heading when we last indulged his ego, with 2010’s Halcyon Digest being a dreamy peak of pop from Deerhunter and Atlas Sound’s 2011’s effort Parallex a tranquilly stripped bookend to it. While there are linear remains of these soundscapes on Monomania (the bubble and chug of opener "Neon Junkyard," guitarist Locket Pundt’s sole contribution “The Missing”, "T.H.M." and "Sleepwalking"'s squiggly bounce) it’s the spots where Cox drags his Deerhunter cohorts into the garage to obliterate their outward beauty with broken guitars and in-the-red recording that provide deliberate attempts at shock and awe. The title track boldly defines Cox's latest sonic obsession (lyrically, albeit) as a straight-forward blister of feedback while "Pensacola" and "Dream Captain" forces its way into the old school hillbilly country stylings of Bo Diddly, John Lee Hooker and Hank Williams (whom Cox cites as major influences on this go.)

Many of Cox’s friends and counterparts have taken on a similar approach of sonic abandon over the years, with his Georgian buds the Black Lips, ex-tour mate Kurt Vile or Ty Segall being the most celebrated of the bunch. In that regard, Monomania doesn’t necessarily turn any new corners or take too many risks for a band we've come to associate with forcing its way through innovation's door, but rather states a solid case that Deerhunter are fully capable of doing music justice when retreating into a less flashy vintage closet just as Titus Andronicus did on last year’s DIY-indulging affair Local Business. Still though, it's the caressed edges like "Back to Middle" or the scene-disassociating closer "Punk (La Vie Antérieure)" on Monomania that feel like proper extensions to Bradford and Deerhunter's progressive potential where as the rest plays like an earnest homage to rock 'n roll relics. The naval-gazing frontman's preoccupation with punking out on Deerhunter's sixth LP comes at the expense of designing what would be an otherwise prismatic affair. You can fully admire his decision to embrace the louder and uglier side of his dramatic interpretation of rock 'n roll, but it doesn't change the fact that it mostly feels stuck in old ways.

Deerhunter's Monomania will be released May 7, 2013 on 4AD Records.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is a really well though out, researched and written review. Awkward Sound should have way more followers. I'm subscribed.