It has gotten to the point where a year without new material from the brains of Bradford Cox or Lockett Pundt feels genuinely out of place. The boys of Deerhunter have been consistently hammering away with more new music than most bands compose across their lifetimes, and they’ve really been pushing hard for only the past four years or so. That was when “Cryptograms” caught the attention of many an ear and brought Deerhunter to the forefront of psychedelic indie rock. Since then, there’s been the single-but-unofficially-double album known as “Microcastle” with its companion piece “Weird Era Cont.” in 2008. Last year saw Pundt’s side project Lotus Plaza release a record, while Cox’s solo project Atlas Sound put out a great sophmore record as well. During that time, Deerhunter was “taking a break”, which for most bands means a couple years off. Yet here we are, 2010 and with all the touring they’ve done Deerhunter has been on break for well under a year. Now comes the new record “Halcyon Digest” and this sort of progress makes you wonder what other bands are wasting their time doing. Not that an album a year is a problem, especially when the music is so great, but there is always the risk of oversaturation aka too much of a good thing. Of course the band also isn’t quite at the pinnacle of what The Beatles did, releasing multiple records filled to the brim with hit singles over the course of a single year. Still, the band’s prolific streak has been impressive, and this new record only continues it further.
Album opener “Earthquake” is a remarkably steady and subdued way to start the record, piecing together a looped guitar, slowly flowing electronic elements, and Bradford Cox’s calming, echoed vocals. The track draws you in with gorgeously psychedelic fever dream and holds your interest without ever feeling the need to expand into something overtly catchy. Accessible has never been Deerhunter’s forte, but mood and atmosphere are their specialty. “Halcyon Digest” keeps that theme going, but there are moments of pure throwback pop goodness. “Don’t Cry” feels like a 50’s ballad filtered through a plume of smoke and gentle fuzz. Chosen as a first single, “Revival” hits all the right notes in that department, with a nice bit of jangly acoustics that stick with you long after the song is over. The purpose of “Memory Boy” seems to be exactly what the title suggests, an energetic 60’s pop tune that holds your brain hostage. “Desire Lines” fills the void needed in a 7-minute electric guitar psych-out that feels most like “old school” (three years ago) Deerhunter, for those that aren’t the biggest fans of some of the stylistic advances the band has made recently. Almost as if purposely trying to echo The Everly Brothers classic “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, Bradford Cox’s extended plea of “dreeeam” throughout the track is almost an update, but with some modern technology and paranoia thrown into the mix. That dream turns from something sweet into what more closely resembles a nightmare. The guitars on “Helicopter” shimmer like the sun reflecting off a wind-swept lake and the plinks of synths mixed with watery electronics make for one of “Halcyon Digest”‘s most gorgeous and memorable compositions. If there’s one track that’s perfect evidence of how Deerhunter has evolved over the last couple years, “Coronado” is it, taking what would otherwise be a simple piano and guitar song and throwing some blaring saxophone in like spice in an already good sauce. The sax is most definitely a good thing, and it was smart of the band to save it for something close to the end of the record as an almost last minute curveball. Provided they don’t overdo it in the future, a little saxophone now and then could really make for a strong addition to the tools already in Deerhunter’s toolchest. Closing out the record is “He Would Have Laughed”, a 7.5 minute tribute song to Jay Reatard. Not only are the lyrics odd and mysterious, but there’s also humor in the idea that the band has put together this epic song for a guy who seemed to prefer plainspoken 2 minute hard rock songs.
If there’s a singular dud on “Halcyon Digest”, it comes from “Sailing”, which is about as boring as doing the actual activity on the most placid lake without a single breeze. It drifts but mostly aimlessly and without purpose, which is pretty much why you might be left questioning its placement on the record. Really though, it fits in for the most part with Deerhunter’s sonic palette, but not necessarily well with everything that comes before and after it. Even without subtracting that song, “Halcyon Digest” remains a drool-inducing amazing record. While it won’t really work if played at a party, giving it a handful of studied listens in your bedroom with headphones will reveal the amazing depths it travels to. This band continues to evolve at an alarming pace, and with the addition of throwing a couple new instruments into the mix and an increased sense of pop accessibility, Deerhunter show they’re not content with simply staying the course. Should they continue the pace they’re on with the same exploratory sensibilities, there could be another handful of brilliant records in their future. Because of their more psychedelic and decidedly un-pop-like tendencies, Deerhunter seems to have avoided the insane level of respect and love that some of the most popular indie artists today are getting. Hey, if Animal Collective can reach that pinnacle with a record like “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, Deerhunter should be able to do the same with “Halcyon Digest”. It might not quite hit that fever pitch where people get diarrhea of the mouth and proclaim things like “album of the year”, but honestly it’s pretty damn close. One of the ten best of 2010 so far? You can put money on it (and you should).
Deerhunter – Revival (ZIP)