You’d never know it by listening to their latest opus Microcastle, but Atlanta ‘s Deerhunter began as an abrasive noise outfit whose notoriously loud live performances often included what felt like a performance art aspect from frontman Bradford Cox. “To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance,” reads the Jean Genet quote on their website, if that helps at all. Much has been made of the band’s polarizing qualities; I mention them here only to illustrate their preternatural tendency for change from one release to the next. Last year’s excellent Cryptograms found them shifting toward ambient drones and fuzzy bursts of no wave. A little more than a year later and they’ve made what may very well be the best pop album of the year.
It’s the rare band whose creative output equals and in many ways surpasses the work of their most praised influences. Deerhunter is such a band. Their most palpable cues (The Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine) serve as talking points only in the vaguest sense; Microcastle sounds unlike anything you’ve likely heard this decade, or any other. Certain distorted guitar tracks recall Loveless, briefly (“Little Kids”), before morphing into a distinctive, buzzing wall that can only be Deerhunter. Cox is no stranger to delay pedals, but it’s only apparent from whence his infatuation arises (a thorough dissection of Darklands) after repeat listens and (over)analysis. Cox’s solo project Atlas Sound is likely to receive a fair amount of comparisons as well, though this, the band’s third album, follows a much more structured trajectory than his largely experimental (though no less compelling) works.
Guitarist Lockett Pundt contributes vocals on two tracks, the post-modern paranoia of “Agoraphobia” and “Neither Of Us, Certainly,” a web of swirling, narcotic reverb. The former’s melancholic melody resonates aptly alongside a lonesome plea for forced isolation, while the latter’s watery guitars sound as if heard from the bottom of the ocean. Aforementioned “Little Kids” buries its morbid lyrics (about a group of gin-swilling children covering a man in gasoline and setting him on fire) beneath layer upon layer of guitar washes.
As ever, drummer Moses Archuleta’s deceptively simple percussion and bassist Josh Fauver’s nimble fingers deliver admirably. Krautrock-inspired extended jam “Nothing Ever Happened” visits the doldrums of hopeless suburban boredom amid a relentless rhythm and frequent guitar spasms. “Never Stops” is the head-bobbing, though reliably distorted single the band always had in them. Midway through Microcastle, a trio of relatively subdued impressions (“Calvary Scars,” “Green Jacket” and “Activa”) find Cox indulging in ethereal realms of experimentation. At the album’s tail end, the twang-inflected almost-blues of “Saved By Old Times” features acoustic guitar, a first for the band. Doo-wop finale “Twilight At Carbon Lake” crashes the curtain down as Deerhunter only knows how, in a rush of noise so complete, it legitimately captures a feeling of catharsis.
One of a select few bands who truly reinvent their sound with each subsequent release (and actually get better for it), Deerhunter once again proves their muse knows no bounds beyond their own potential, which, right now, seems endless.