Release Date: May 7, 2013
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Dream Pop, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock
Few musicians working today are more prolific than Bradford Cox, who records as Atlas Sound and, with four bandmates and a heavier rock set-up, as Deerhunter. For Monomania, his ninth album since 2005 (not counting two EPs and a glut of online demos), he reportedly wrote more than 20 songs for every one that ended up on the finished record. Somehow, it all sounds effortless: a whistlestop tour of rock'n'roll styles – from blues on Pensacola to deranged glam rock on Leather Jacket II – that never lets up.
Since forming Deerhunter as a raw ambient-punk outfit 12 years ago, Bradford Cox has turned an obsession with rock & roll excess and escapism – and all the fluid-spattered, cross-dressing onstage moments that such provokes – into a reckless, fascinating catalog. The band's sixth LP honors Cox's preoccupation and his chameleonic qualities: from opening with a craggy groan that transitions into a glamrock-garage assault ("Neon Junkyard") to grumbling through low-fi folk ("Nitebike") to slipping into a soft, psych-pop reverie ("The Missing") that flows directly from 2010's lovely Halcyon Digest. There is clearly no quietude in Cox's frantic mind, but his obsession yields beauty.
Don’t blink—no mere mid-career album, Monomania registers as an absolute impact event, a massive dirty blast marking the moment Deerhunter’s steady trajectory spins out of control. Somehow, throughout a ridiculously prolific decade, despite the shifting offshoots of lead singer/songwriter Bradford Cox’s satellite project Atlas Sound and guitarist Lockett Pundt’s developing solo career as Lotus Plaza, despite an evolving sonic foundation and lockstep critical aclaim, somehow Deerhunter have kept all their moving parts in sync and dodged stadium fame. Following Monomania, one side or the other will have to give.
We never expect rock frontmen to act like themselves when they grace the stage. There’s a distinct separation between those who ooze stage presence with theatrical gestures, and those who strut around the stage with a swaggering self-assurance. It’s a challenge to exactly cubbyhole Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox in any of those descriptions, but one thing’s for certain, he does possess the ability to annoy and offend.
Deerhunter have always sought to make uncompromising rock music that splits its time between atmospheric psychedelia, simple pop songs and anarchic noise. Frontman/main songwriter Bradford Cox controls the group's volatility via his ever-changing moods, musical tastes and eccentric direction. For sixth album Monomania, Deerhunter joined Nicholas Vernhes in Brooklyn, NY's Rare Book Studio, and the result is their rawest recording since their debut.
Bradford Cox has long maintained that music is for all intents and purposes his boyfriend. Often classifying himself as asexual, he's asserted that a relationship would convolute his single-minded pursuit of music. He classified his pathology as "monomania" in a Rolling Stone interview a few years back, essentially an obsession with one idea or subject.
Despite a pronounced lean towards the gritty in all its finer trappings, Deerhunter’s fifth longplayer is riddled with some of Cox’s most structurally sound songwriting. Adding to the aforementioned tracks, “Dream Captain” is an aggro rock-and-roll throwback; “Blue Agent” flickers with the cooler movements of Television; and the penultimate “Nitebike” betrays the speed of its title’s imagery to reveal an acoustic confessional via the means that only Cox possesses. In its fuller context, Monomania requires more than a couple spins for its individual parts to rear their heads.
Bigmouth strikes again: the latest target of Bradford Cox's verbal jabs was none other than Morrissey himself, but this particular barrage had a precision of intent that went overlooked by most online gawkers. "Have you ever read Morrissey's description of the Ramones?," he asked Buzzfeed. "I will always be on Team Joey, and Team Dee Dee. I come from America, where Bo Diddley was born!" While Deerhunter's always had a thing for indie rock advocacy, Cox's pointed patriotism was a new kind of stump speech, and in light of Monomania, his typically hilarious candor doubled as media savvy.
Review Summary: Listening to Monomania is like looking through a scrapbook that reflects on Deerhunter's history, their influences, and even gives hints of where they might go next.Monomania, as its name implies, is an album that is centered around one sole concept-- stirring things up. The music exhibits a constant fluctuation of moods and sounds here, and yet despite the album's capricious nature, Monomania never loses sight of its thematic plot. This album is a regression to their roots, and by that I'm not necessarily referring solely to Deerhunter's previous work, but the music that influenced their own as well.
There’s something unsettled and bipolar about Deerhunter’s fifth album, Monomania. At one end of the spectrum, Bradford Cox fronts the band through big psychedelic, avant punk freakouts layered with fat guitar noises and double-tracked, distorted vocals. At the other, there’s a saccharine rhythm and blues influence that fits right in with Cox’s recent work with Atlas Sound.
There are two songwriters on Monomania. Both of them are us. We’ll get into that later. First: how does music move over time? Deerhunter taught me it doesn’t happen in an instant. I certainly don’t believe in musical moments anymore. I don’t think a break-up album can pick someone up in and ….
Deerhunter are known for changing their sonic patterns album after album, and their latest effort once again shakes up the status quo. Monomania bounces through a mass of noisy rock 'n' roll, and for the most part it's gritty and raw. But The Missing is essentially an indie pop song with a buzzing synth, and after that it's Pensacola, a punk-cum-southwestern ditty with Lockett Pundt (aka Lotus Plaza) on steel guitar.
“I am a terrorist,” said Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox in a recent interview in response to a question about one of his band’s recent live shows. “As a homosexual, my job is to simply sodomise mediocrity.”You see, Deerhunter don’t deal in the mundane, in the constraints of genre, in the banality of space, time and etiquette. They’ve been defecating all over it for almost 12 years now.
DeerhunterMonomania[4AD; 2013]By Rob Hakimian; May 6, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThe two and a half year gap from Deerhunter’s last full length Halcyon Digest to their newest release Monomania, is the longest we’ve had to wait for new material from the prolific Atlanta band. This time we didn’t get an EP like Fluorescent Grey or Rainwater Cassette Exchange that bridged the gap between full lengths and helped to give an indication of what they might do next, so we were coming into this release relatively blind. Or perhaps we weren’t, and we just didn’t know it.
You’ve been reading about it for days already, weeks even. They’ve been locking journalists in bathrooms, chopping off their fingers, and coming to terms with the dear Connie Lungpin — no, she’s not a character for the album, just some fragment of a million identities assembled on any given day — all in the midst of prep for Deerhunter’s fifth album, the highly anticipated Monomania. Nocturnal garage? Nah, that’s just off-the-cuff spout, some whimsical kindling for a raging press furnace; this is the business, this is them, back to black.
Before Monomania's release, Deerhunter described the album's music as "nocturnal garage" -- an accurate, if somewhat elliptical, nutshell explanation of what Bradford Cox and crew (who include new bassist Josh McKay and additional guitarist Frankie Broyles) are up to on this set of songs. After Halcyon Digest's nostalgic haze and the fragile beauty of Atlas Sound's Parallax, it seemed that Cox was drifting further away from the rawness of his early days. He breaks away from this insular turn on Monomania -- to a point.
Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox has claimed that the state of “monomania”, after which his band have named their sixth album, relates to him having never “moved on” like his bandmates, instead remaining single-minded and, for better or worse, constantly focused on nothing but his music. Bearing this in mind, these new tracks feel, more than ever, like very personal work. Indeed, following the breezier psychedelic sound of solo project Atlas Sound’s recent work, Monomania emerges fraught, scratchy, anguished and explosive.
At this point, complaining about any of Bradford Cox's musical choices seems pointless: he does what he wants, and if you don't like it, you can go and listen to something else. You might as well suggest that oranges are all very well, but they'd be a whole lot better if they were peaches. Nevertheless, six albums into Deerhunter's career, Bradford Cox's decision to embrace ultra-low fidelity seems perverse.
Bradford Cox makes it real easy to get to the heart of Monomania by putting the thesis to the album up front: “Finding the fluorescence in the junk.” For all the mythos surrounding Cox and Deerhunter, their latest album is an attempt to put more distance between the spiritualism of their lyrics and the spiritualism of the music. It’s a continuation of Weird Era, Cont., the companion to their 2006 album Microcastle, where craggy guitars and distorted vocals make for what’s ostensibly a dirty garage rock album glowing from the inside. However, this isn’t Is This It.
Always unconventional but never careless, Deerhunter has long secured their reputation as indie rock's resident eggheads, deftly blending post-punk, baroque pop, and gauzy psychedelia with confidence and cool. Yet with Monomania, Bradford Cox and company have all but abandoned that proclivity for expertly braided patchwork. Like a cursory outline of scrawled, scattershot ideas, Deerhunter's sixth studio album plays out like a series of rough sketches, a loose demo of brainstorming and half-wrought monologues resulting from some spur-of-the-moment band rehearsal.
The unintended irony of Bradford Cox’s amusingly offhand slagging off of Morrissey in a recent interview is that the two of them are obviously peas in a pod, a pair of misanthropic, sexually ambiguous aesthete nerds who belong to an absolutely microscopic club of genuinely interesting musicians. The difference between Cox and Morrissey (or David Byrne, or David Bowie, or Brian Eno) is that while they made their mark on the world early, as Cox progresses into his thirties he still has much to prove. Putting out something like eight good to great albums in five years, selling out Shepherd’s Bush Empire and being given your own ATP to curate are all fine achievements, but there was probably a kernel of truth in what those needy Morrissey fans were posting under the aforementioned interview, namely that for all the killer interviews, incandescent live shows and Best New Musics (8.
Bradford Cox, a high school dropout from suburban Atlanta who scoffs at sexual orientation and has been shadowed since childhood by Marfan syndrome, has become a hipster household name and his psychedelic avant-garde pop band Deerhunter is influencing future generations of musicians. This is the state of American music and I for one couldn’t be happier. Deerhunter released Halcyon Digest in 2010 and for all intents and purposes nailed the sound they had been refining since recording 2001’s debut, Turn It Up Faggot.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, after the release of Atlas Sound’s fantastically brilliant Parallax, Bradford Cox explained his monomania and how he’s consistently fixated with one thing. And while monomania is the strict definition of a partial insanity where a sole aspect consumes one’s mind, Cox goes on to explain his ensuing nervous breakdown in a London hotel. “I’m obsessive about one thing, that there’s one thing that’s going to make me happy and it’s making music,” Cox explained.
Whereas previous Deerhunter records have seen Bradford Cox and his increasingly important associates push boundaries about as far as one can whilst still being recognisably an indie band, Monomania takes a different attitude to innovation. In terms of song structure, their sixth album is by far their most straightforward yet. Though the band are often at their best when left to build melodies and squall over long stretches that eventually result in dazzling payoffs, they here deliver a record full of three minute, verse-bridge-chorus tunes that are by and large loathe to take even the slightest of left turns.
Monomania: when the mind becomes obsessively concentrated and fixated upon one special symbol of passion. Deerhunter may not be not running melodramatically across the Yorkshire moors wailing “Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home” (admittedly some slight embellishment there, but wouldn’t a bit of Kate Bush liven up Wuthering Heights?) but they still buy into a popular sort of hero, bound to his art. Chasing a singular aesthetic, ‘Monomania’ is a strange album of pop turned entirely on its head and scrambled through a triple encoder filled with cherry Coca-Cola.
Deerhunter's sixth LP borders on a Bradford Cox solo album. More than anything else by the Atlanta indie band, it captures his complexity as a songwriter – frail yet abrasive, pushing back only to pull further in. Employing a couple of eight-tracks, "Neon Junkyard" starts in the red, overblown and overexposed. Another diamond in the rough, "Leather Jacket II" buries a cradling guitar riff behind a layer of lo-fi noise, while "T.H.M." treats the sound of a hacking cough like a tambourine.
It’s important to attend to beginnings. Most people met Deerhunter around the time of Cryptograms (2007) or the beloved Microcastle (2008), but their first static-wreathed transmission to the world was an aggressively amelodic cacophony affectionately known as Turn It Up Faggot (2005). If you haven’t heard it, you’re not alone. Spotify’s otherwise exhaustive Deerhunter inventory excludes it, and the band themselves rarely draw from it for concerts.
Forever in pursuit of drama and difference, frontman Brandon Cox surrenders to his rock ’n’ roll monomania on Deerhunter’s fifth album by breaking down the sound of his revered Atlanta band. Up through the 2010 tour de force “Halcyon Days,” the singer and his shifting lineup had built up the concept of “ambient punk” until they towered above an overpopulated indie-rock scene full of dreamy textures, opaque lyrics, and ringing guitar. Now Deerhunter risks that distinction by careening both into mechanized din — the title track closes with what sounds like a dirt bike in need of a tuneup — and spare lo-fi wispiness — the next track opens with a strummed acoustic guitar and Cox warbling, “I was spinning my Big Wheels.
At what point did Bradford Cox become a real rock star? Did it begin with Deerhunter’s first album, Turn It Up Faggot? Or did it happen when he first began releasing his solo recordings under the name Atlas Sound? Was it on the psychedelic shoegaze vision quest of Microcastle? Was it when he let that saxophone take the reigns on Halcyon Digest’s “Coronado”? Or was it when he showed up on Jimmy Fallon a few weeks ago and performed the title track to his band’s latest album, Monomania, while wearing a tattered black wig and bloody bandages on his fingers? It’s impossible to know for sure. This type of calculation is a fool’s game, but it’s the kind of thinking that Cox, one of indie rock’s only totally singular frontmen left standing, inadvertently inspires. To put it more succinctly: What’s his deal? None of these questions are answered by Monomania, Deerhunter’s playful swerve of an album.
Deerhunter are one of those very fortunate indie rock bands who have managed to achieve a surprising amount of critical and popular consensus. I would imagine that, when all is said and done, there are a good number of NME-fronting four pieces who may have had more hits (briefly) or Glastonbury-fueled hype, but who ultimately would trade it all, now that they have been exposed as being irrelevant and fatuous, for Deerhunter's less heralded but more sturdy popularity. As annoying as Deerhunter can be at times, I'd still embrace every one of their shoegaze-meets-pop-rock songs if it meant we could banish every overhyped, moronic, culturally insignificant release by Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, The Enemy and Babyshambles into the abyss of non-existence.