For most bands, this is five times their lifetime. For successful bands, this is one auspicious debut and one sophomore disappointment. Yet, in five years, Deerhunter have managed to release a paralyzingly great body of work: five albums, two EPs and three solo albums.
That’s a lot of music in such a short period of time. What’s even more impressive is that each release has consistently been fresh, transformative, and arguably better than the previous effort. With the band’s latest album, Halcyon Digest, they have brought their best effort to date. And, true to form, each Deerhunter album is as eclectic as most bands’ catalogs—each song is as different from one another as other bands’ albums. They effectively re-invent themselves from Track 1 to Track 2.
With Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter has dropped much of their shoegaze influences found on Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. and have established a new, stripped-down rock sound. Don’t be fooled, though. Their sound may be accessible, but it’s deceptive. It draws you in like the Sirens from The Odyssey. Only when you’re hooked do you realize just what’s caught you.
The album opens with “Earthquake” (below), a slow, hazy dream of a song that floats through its five-minute running time with shambling guitar echoes and digitized drums, while Bradford Cox quietly sings of the song’s title natural disaster. It’s a perfect way to open the album, suggesting all at once controlled chaos and beautiful destruction, which then explodes into two similar back-to-back pop songs, “Don’t Cry” and “Revival.”
After the first high note of the album, the band follows with “Sailing,” the slowest and one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs on the album. Here Cox sings of bittersweet loneliness and liking who you are even when you know you can’t change. It’s one of the least accessible songs on the album, but it somehow grows into the friend that Cox yearns for—it stays with you in your darkest moments. It’s as if the song was crafted for that very thing: a shoulder to rest your head on in the dark.
“Memory Boy” whisks the album back into the pop with its quick, catchy refrain shifts and scattered harmonica. The song seems to end as quickly as it started, and brings the first song by co-songwriter Lockett Pundt, “Desire Lines.” This is the catchiest song that the band has ever written and is one of the key standout tracks the album has to offer. “Desire Lines” almost establishes independent mainstream: comfortable sounds that wrap an otherwise uncomfortable heart. After the second chorus, the song breaks into a lazy guitar jam that balances out the first half of the song masterfully. It’s as though they’re alerting the listener to what’s going on.
The band’s lo-fi roots are brought to the four-track recording of “Basement Scene”. In a Q and A session I watched with the band, Cox had said that this was his favorite track on the album. This really took me by surprise because I thought it was the weakest track in the album. After a few repeat listens, the song really started to grow on me and it feels like the right song to bridge the last third of the album.
“Helicopter” was one of the first songs I had heard from the album, and it is another of the indelible tracks that has been getting a ton of buzz outside of the album in general. In many ways, the song lives up to its namesake—hovering above the denizens of critics and bloggers trying to deconstruct the album’s sound. It’s literally above it all. The reverb-laced guitar churns over a simple beat for the entirety of the song, and the lyrics follow an otherwise depressing story of a Russian prostitute detailed in the liner notes of the album.
Locket follows with his second song of the album, “Fountain Stairs,” which follows his solo project from last year, Lotus Plaza, with his voice drenched in reverb. “Coronado”, most likely the strongest straight-up pop song on the album, leaves the listener on a high note with a healthy dose of saxophone solos before the final track.
Halcyon Digest closes with “He Would Have Laughed,” an ode to fellow Southern indie rocker Jay Reatard, who died earlier this year. The first half of the song is comprised of a quick drum beat and an acoustic guitar riff that Bradford had been using at Atlas Sound shows early this year. He sings of being bored as he gets older and confusion on where to go at a time of uncertainty. Halfway through, the song stops and starts back up with the single guitar line until Bradford half sing/whispers “Come on, dream on”, and the song turns into an ambient hazy dream. As Bradford wails “Where did my friends go? Where did my friends go?” over a single acoustic guitar strum, you can’t help but feel just as lost as he is. As the album begins to end with this ambient bliss, the single acoustic guitar found throughout the song plays drenched in reverb, and is cut off abruptly, just like a dream, or perhaps, Jay Reatard.
Halcyon Digest is a title that recalls yesterday—an album title that suggests a sort of keepsake recalling better, happier days. It’s a fitting title, as Deerhunter manages to capture the sound of nostalgia with this album—a filtered, sepia-toned view of days gone by. Melancholy while upbeat; respect for the past while drinking to forget. It’s a bracing album, a step forward, and a line in the sand between now and yesterday—a line you don’t mind lying down in for a long while.
[Deerhunter/Atlas Sound/ Lotus Plaza/ Ghetto Cross Blog]
(Halcyon Digest is available now from 4AD Records)
–Cole Downs is a good friend of TWJ and a guest contributor due to his obscene love for Deerhunter and Bradford Cox’s body…of work. Be sure to head over and visit his other endeavor: Future Friend Comedy. Chest hair is his specialty.