Release Date: Sep 28, 2010
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Deerhunter have become masters of the gentle 180. They regularly take themselves in completely new directions, all the while staying completely recognizable. Maybe it’s the elegantly simple, fuzzed out guitar interplay of Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt, maybe its Cox’s floating, ethereal falsetto or every band member’s unparalleled ability to do a lot with a little.
Halcyon Digest is a record about the joy of music discovery, the thrill of listening for the first time to a potential future favorite, and that sense of boundless possibility when you're still innocent of indie-mainstream politics and your personal canon is far from set. In revisiting that youthful enthusiasm, Deerhunter brilliantly rekindle it, and the result meets Microcastle/Weird Era (Cont.) as the band's most exhilarating work to date. Whether those halcyon days were real or just idealized doesn't matter.
Bradford Cox’s jagged, swirling atmospherics reach an apotheosis on this hazy but blissful offering. The digital stutters of the opener “Earthquake” give away to a reverb-drenched wonderland swimming with Cox’s dream-noir narration. His patented pop derangements unfurl on bouncing tracks “Don’t Cry,” “Revival” and “Memory Boy,” which are shot through with poignant lyrics about domestic life on the verge of loss and epiphany.
What is there to say about Halcyon Digest that wasn’t already said about Microcastle? With one ‘proper’ full-length, two stop-gap EPs, and another two Atlas Sound albums since 2007’s Cryptograms, the idea of Deerhunter as a pop group no longer comes as a shock. There’s an ongoing progression toward accessibility, but the trajectory remains the same as it was two years ago. Is it lazy or dismissive to refer to Halcyon Digest as yet another emotionally rich, sensitive, and atmospheric work from Bradford Cox and Co? One thing you can’t say about Halcyon Digest is that it’s surprising.
Bradford Cox is not particularly famous, which I sometimes think is a pretty strange thing. I mean if you were absolutely forced to go out and identify a bona fide genius from the current indie generation, you have to admit you wouldn't be on totally shakey ground with the man. Certainly if you simply looked at the reviews his records for Deerhunter and Atlas Sound had notched up and then noted his sheer prolificness – six albums since 2007 – you would probably come to the conclusion that here is one of the most fêted performers of the present day.
Review Summary: A great album, tweakedThe album I want to review is one I’ve fabricated. For this next part, you’ll have to work with me: grab your copy of Halcyon Digest in whichever format available. Put the album on repeat and click on the second track, "Don't Cry." Breathe easy; this gets good. Press play.Bradford Cox’ transformation from a a near-mythical figure of the teenage wasteland to one of indie rock’s most formidable stars has been one tapped intrinsically to his musical output.
Inspired by the flyer culture of punk and college rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Deerhunter introduced Halcyon Digest with an “interactive Xerox art project” in which fans photocopied an old-school flyer made by Bradford Cox, pasted it around their towns, photographed it and sent the results back to the band. Besides being a clever viral strategy to drum up interest for the album, it speaks to the way Deerhunter approaches how fleeting and important memories can be on these songs. Given how prolific Cox and crew have been together -- and separately, with his Atlas Sound project and Lockett Pundt's Lotus Plaza -- since 2007’s Cryptograms, it’s not surprising that they took this opportunity to look back.
Even the casual observer had to know that Deerhunter were not going to be playing the jersey-wearing indie rockers for long. It’d only be a matter of time before they’d retreat from the clarity of Microcastle back behind the haze of Cryptograms, obscuring Bradford Cox’s songwriting underneath the group’s shimmering guitar tones. And so here comes Halcyon Digest, an album that trades the Sonic Youth-referencing rock for a difference-splitting haze-pop that showcases Deerhunter at their most fragile.
With every album, Deerhunter strip away more layers of textural ambience and reveal what some fans knew all along: that they're a pop band. That's not to say Halcyon Digest is "easy"; it still takes a few listens to fully comprehend. But when not hiding behind melody-obscuring noise, Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt are exposed to be as skilled at songwriting as sonic experimentation.
For all that Deerhunter is often perceived as "Bradford Cox's band", it's a measure of strength in depth that the standout on their fourth album is written by guitarist Lockett Pundt. Desire Lines is built around the tension between a plucked guitar line that falls as the riff below it rises, before unwinding into a soaring and shimmering chorus, and concluding with a near four-minute coda that ploughs on and on and on. It's beautiful and grand, as entrancing a piece of neo-psychedelia as you might wish for.
A welcome departure Deerhunter has graduated, by degrees, from conjuring moods to writing proper songs, and fourth album Halcyon Digest finds Bradford Cox and company strip-mining new aural territory and toeing the line between structure and abstraction. Opener “Earthquake” lowers a looping trio of sounds—a snare trill, a struck match, a tape noise swipe—into a deep sonic chasm where legions of guitars and dissolving vocals dominate. The synthesizer early in “He Would Have Laughed” soars into kaleidoscopic infinity, and the feather-light “Sailing” has just enough melody to stick in your head.
There’s been some unexpected byproducts of the internet age in music, but perhaps most perplexing among them is how—with all this access to music, and the glut of opinions on it coming out of the woodwork—our insecurities as fans get amplified. Not all that long ago, we didn’t have thousands of blogs and forums around to champion or tear down our tastes. But now, with so much music so easily had, and with so many authoritative voices chiming in to play tastemaker, it’s easy to feel inadequate, even uneducated about music.
A halcyon is a mythical bird that would calm the furious wind and coldness into something warm and bearable. While its significance is rooted in mythology, the term is also used when reflecting and looking back at past instances. Using what we’ve come to learn from Bradford Cox and Deerhunter, the topic for their latest masterpiece, Halcyon Digest, stems directly from the ability of being able to look back and remember past experiences.
Another solid entry in the discography of a mighty band. Charles Ubaghs 2010 The law of diminishing returns should by all rights apply to Atlanta, Georgia’s Deerhunter. Halcyon Digest is their fourth LP since 2005. In addition to those albums proper, they’ve released two EPs, frontman Bradford Cox and guitarist Lockett Pundt have released solo albums (Cox has even found time for two), and 2008’s Microcastle was repackaged with an extra full length album, Weird Era Cont.
We’ve got a fossil on our hands. With their mix of industrial rock and folk, Deerhunter has made something rare in this era of the digital download and the three-note ringtone smash hit. It’s a real, living album, all the way from the opener, “Earthquake,” with its drum machine-induced trance, to the seven-and-a-half minute closer, “He Would Have Laughed,” which floats on and on until it fades out and you finally have to begin again.
At what point do we start to worry about Deerhunter disappearing completely? Over the course of their still young career, this Georgia-based band have felt like their music was receding further behind a wall of effects and filters, as if it was an attempt to write pop songs using Alvin Lucier's Sitting In A Room as their chief inspiration. For their third full-length, Halcyon Digest, the gauziness is thicker, but the pop melodies and dreamy vocals of leader Bradford Cox still float on the surface, leaving a gorgeous, rainbow-colored sheen in their wake. The familiar elements the band have carried since they blasted through the cerebral cortices of the blogosphere is their equal parts appreciation for the world of American and British music from the ’60s through today, and their fine attempts to mesh the two in new and surprising ways.
"You can't take too long making up songs," reasons Bradford Cox at a near-whisper halfway through the frail "Sailing" on Halcyon Digest. That's an apt summation of the Deerhunter and Atlas Sound frontman's aesthetic. He's a bedroom pop provocateur, crafting meticulous neo-gaze confessionals with various levels of awkwardness and anxiety, masked accordingly in reverb and distortion.