Release Date: Nov 8, 2011
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox used to bury his voice under raging feedback swells or oceans of whooshing reverb. But he's grown far more confident in recent years – and on his third solo disc, Cox takes another step in the direction of unabashed pop, singing about modern love in a molten-candy croon that could almost belong to a Fifties teen idol. He uses his newfound swagger to sell a set of surprisingly sticky hooks: Nearly every tune features a bright, immediate melody, leaving behind the diffuse musings he's favored in the past.
Atlas Sound, the solo moniker of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, has always served as a laboratory of sorts. Deerhunter has always been the show stealer, but Atlas Sound provides a place for Cox to explore a more insular, claustrophobic space, one full of insecurity and doubt. Atlas Sound is always full of contradictions: stream of consciousness lyrics that are somehow highly personal, music that sounds simultaneously thrown together and meticulous.
So what if it’s only 2011. I think it’s already safe to say that when we start talking about the best music of this decade eight years from now, we’ll have quite a bit to say about Bradford Cox. Over the last couple of years, through his work with his main outfit Deerhunter and his solo project Atlas Sound, the hyper-prolific Cox has emerged as an endlessly fascinating, risk-taking musician who continues to evolve at a frightening pace.
Bradford Cox knows a thing or two about creating a schism between his everyday self and the one he presents on record. In interviews he's garrulous and outspoken, ostensibly brimming with confidence, yet plagued by insecurity. All that self-doubt manifests itself in his solo project, Atlas Sound, where he often sounds small, alone, and cut adrift from the world.
There’s a couple ways to approach Parallax, the latest and greatest heart-pouring from Bradford Cox’s home-recording project Atlas Sound. The first is without the context of who Bradford Cox is, without knowing he is diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, without knowing he’s disseminated hundreds of songs on his blog, without knowing his role as frontman of the far more accessible psych-rock group Deerhunter, without a bead on his mercurial, tortured, and aching lyrics of past projects, and without a sense that Cox is becoming the premiere artist who combines his self and his music to create an unparalleled artistic symbiosis. Without that context, Atlas Sound can feel insular and difficult to penetrate.
On “Te Amo,” the third track of Atlas Sound’s Parallax, Bradford Cox sings, “We’ll have such strange dreams” with the joyous anticipation of a habitual dweller of other worlds. The same tone also infuses a later lyric, “When you’re down / You’re always down,” but touched with exasperation, the banal suffering of romantic frustrations. It’s this straddling of dimensional thresholds—quotidian hardships on one side, and then, one step away, escape into gleaming galaxies of notes metastasizing to infinity—that gives the Deerhunter frontman’s work its appeal.
On his third solo album as Atlas Sound, Deerhunter main man Bradford Cox hones the tortured troubadour persona he embodies in the cover sleeve's vintage crooner portrait, shot by Mick Rock. However, Parallax's personality is as much about moody, impressionistic aesthetics as it is pop-idol earnestness. Cox gently combines guttural vocals, impassioned wailing, dirge-y folk riffs, 70s rock swagger and sunny melodies.
There's always been an otherworldly quality to Bradford Cox's solo recordings as Atlas Sound, but on his third studio album it comes across with more unsettling clarity than ever. Parallax is dedicated to Trish Keenan, the ethereal-voiced singer with Broadcast, who died earlier this year; at times the sense of loneliness it communicates is so profound, you'd think it was Cox himself trapped beyond the grave. "Cold, cold, cold," he chants in the final throes of Modern Aquatic Nightsongs, over ghostly echoes of guitar.
It’s official: Bradford Cox is stepping out of the shadows. Oh, sure, we heard hints of this development in last year’s Halcyon Digest, the much-heralded effort by Cox’s “real” band, Deerhunter, which introduced a newfound clarity to the band’s sound. But the songs on that album were still clouded by frustratingly (or beguilingly — take your pick) catch-all lines encouraging the listener to dream little dreams about basement scenes.
On his most recent outing under the Atlas Sound moniker, 2009’s Logos, Bradford Cox let a little light into his gloomy bedroom. The muddled synths and whispery melodies that previously defined the Deerhunter frontman’s solo project were exchanged for crisp acoustic guitars and wider outlook. But Cox still cast his fractured pop with a morbid touch -- see the regret at the heart of Logos’s jangly standout, “Walkabout” -- and if the overall effect was sunnier, it was only because Cox found subjects other than himself on which to focus.
Parallax, the visual phenomenon that affects the perception of objects’ relative positions depending on the viewer’s distance from them, couldn’t be a more apt namesake for Bradford Cox's third officially released Atlas Sound album. Cox plays with distance, motion, and emotion on this set of songs, oscillating between the sparkling pop he does so well with this project as well as Deerhunter and the hazy experiments that are all Atlas Sound. From the start, it’s clear that Parallax will spend as much time with the blurry edges of Cox’s sound as with its catchy center: “The Shakes” starts things with pretty pop that has both feet more or less on the ground, but “Amplifiers” floats off into space instead of delivering the big choruses the verses seem to anticipate.
Just who is Bradford Cox? This much we know: he fronts psych-rockin’ blogosphere darlings Deerhunter, teeters somewhere on the cusp of his thirties, cuts a long spindly figure onstage and churns out albums at a ferocious pace - this, Parallax, is his seventh solo outing if you count his various bedroom recording internet releases. The rest can be pieced together from the rare interviews he grants - reluctant discussion of how a genetic disease has twisted his body into something resembling one of Guillermo Del Toro's fantastical filmic creations. How he developed an addiction to ambient music while blissed out on painkillers after ensuing spinal operations.
As Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project evolves, continually releasing albums in between his primary band, Deerhunter, one is forced to ask an uncomfortable question. His solo recordings seem to be slowly arcing away from the fringes of their avant-electronic roots toward more standard pop territory, while Deerhunter, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems also to be retreating, this time from avant-noise toward that same poppier terrain. Is there room in the world for two Bradford Cox-fronted outfits making increasingly similar music? At this rate, it feels like the two bands will either a) merge identities after another album or two from each or b) cross paths briefly for a moment (a split LP, perhaps?), before spiraling off into different directions still.
Despite inherent differences, the trajectory of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound project is actually quite similar to his band. Deerhunter moved from obscured psych-rock to swirling psychedelia to taut indie rock on Halcyon Digest, and Atlas Sound's third album Parallax presents the same unadorned crystal clarity, for better or worse. Where Cox's previous albums sounded like literal "bedroom" electronica, all boxed-in rhythms and heavy-lidded melodies, Parallax is the product of a studio.In fact, Parallax sounds like a classic rock record, but a revisionist one: think Smashing Pumpkins' 1991 debut Gish for a similar mixture of traditionalism and modernized psychedelia.
When I was a kid, I would alternate covering up one of my eyes and note the difference in perspective when viewing some random household object. It was often frightening how wildly different the right and left eye took in a book, a table, or the pet dog. This, apparently, is a parallax: the measurement between two sightlines perceiving the same object.
Review Summary: you're always down.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.
Atlas Sound It’s getting harder to tell the difference between Bradford Cox’s two recording projects. Deerhunter, his band, used to be noisier, sometimes punkier and sometimes more abstract; Atlas Sound, his solo recordings, used to be dronier and spacier. But at this point his recordings have ….
It already feels like ages since Deerhunter’s magical night-in-the-rearview album “Halcyon Digest’’ came out in 2009. The new one from frontman Bradford Cox’s solo project highlights the distance. Far from the intrepid sonic wandering in “Halcyon,’’ “Parallax’’ feels like a few days locked in a bedroom with the flu. There’s an old quilt thrown over the drums and guitars, and Cox’s bitter, mumbling vocals bend and stretch through canyons of warm echoes.
Bradford Cox’s most coherent record to date – how badly we need more of his ilk. Martin Aston 2011 There’s prolific, and there’s Bradford Cox. Deerhunter’s principal singer/songwriter and Atlas Sound’s sole proprietor clearly doesn’t understand the concept of downtime, judging by the four-volume home recordings released online late last year under the title Bedroom Databank.