Release Date: Oct 28, 2008
Record label: Kranky
Genre(s): Rock, Experimental
Note: Also serves as review for Deerhoof's Offend Maggie. Go to rate that album by clicking here.As global warming threatens the chilly habitats of the family Cervidae, we can thank Deerhunter and Deerhoof for calling attention to the noble antlered animal. Last year, the bands’ Cryptograms and Friend Opportunity offered equal parts ambition and experimentation.
The narcotic drones and fragmented art punk Deerhunter explored on Cryptograms made the album a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for many indie rock fans; where some heard eclectic expansiveness, others heard incoherent experiments. Microcastle, the band's first album with guitarist Whitney Petty, brings together the disparate elements that made Cryptograms fascinating and frustrating, adding a little more pop and quite a bit more studio polish (this album was recorded in a week, as opposed to the two days it took to lay down Cryptograms). Deerhunter still change from gentle to storming at a moment's notice, as on "Microcastle" itself, which drifts along like a slow-motion surf rock ballad, then catches fire about two-thirds of the way through, and the album's middle stretch of songs is just as lulling as Cryptograms' opening suite, but a lot more melodic.
Deerhunter has matured more in the last two years than even some of the best bands do in at least five years, and reached a plateau that most bands never even sniff. As a constant source of crazy headlines followed Deerhunter and Bradford Cox wherever he and the band went in late 2007, we forgot just how much Cryptograms did to reshape the conventions, framework and soundscape of a noise-rock album. It was deceptively aggressive, and when I listened to it again for the first time in months recently, I was overcome with its nervous, urgent energy more so ever before (whereas in the past, I had been mostly baffled).
Deerhunter main man Branford Cox has been splitting his time with his Atlas Sound ambient pop project, so some bleed-over between the two was bound to happen. But few people might've expected it to result in the latest Deerhunter release veering off in two different directions simultaneously. The Microcastle half of the double-disc set focuses on fuzz-enhanced indie rock with off-kilter changes and nomenclature that may suggest a Pavement inspiration to some, but it's more likely Cox has been listening to the mid-80s Kiwi pop of the Clean, Tall Dwarfs and the Chills.
Review Summary: Deerhunter focus their energy in a new pop-oriented direction with MicrocastleLast year, Deerhunter’s Cryptograms was a haunting, yet blissful album. Additionally, it appeared rather bipolar; the first slew of tracks appeared bleak, while the second portion illuminated a giddy, shoegaze/indie-pop sound. But what made Cryptograms startling was its delicate balance.
Fresh on the heels of his deliciously spooky Atlas Sound solo album, the bizarre and beguiling Bradford Cox outdid himself again on his Brooklyn-based band's third record. Like many of their peers, Deerhunter are enamoured of shoegazing. Unlike most, they swim with the genre's morbid undertow, pitching their seductive noisescapes not as a means of transcendence but as an asphyxiating yet beautiful cocoon.
After the breakout success of 2007’s Cryptograms, Deerhunter has expanded its sonic palette without sacrificing the innovation or excitement that’s polarized a small cross-section of the listening public. Building upon the melodic leanings of the Fluorescent Grey EP (also from 2007), the sweeping soundscapes on Microcastle show the Atlanta band embracing its grandiose ambitions, although never to the extent of being overstuffed or ostentatious. Rather, Deerhunter creates intimate moments that swell into something that feels much larger.
Bradford Cox loves the Breeders, and I can’t fault him for it. He is locked in a mindmeld with the zeitgeist, a post-ego celebrity who is of his fans rather than above them. Microcastle sounds like a different band from Cryptograms. It is poppier, cleaner, focused and influenced by Porno for Pyros.