Unjustifiably Shitty Photos of… Deerhunter at the Showbox at the Market, Seattle

Crusading music writer sits down comfortably for entire show, eschews the inconvenience of walking nearer the stage to take nicer pictures!

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Wednesday evening found me at Seattle’s Showbox at the Market to see a band I talk entirely too much about, Atlanta’s Deerhunter.  Unless you live in a lightless, airless tomb outside of time (I’m talking about YOU, Cthulu), you probably already know that Deerhunter is back after about a year’s hiatus touring in support of their most recent record, that record being the excellent Halcyon Digest.

The band hasn’t lost a step in the year or so they took off from being Deerhunter- they still play their songs way faster live than they do on the albums, and the emotion that they display during their performances surpasses the often sadly philosophical tone they strike on their recordings.  Bradford Cox’s sudden eruption into nearly screamed vocals during the much heavier and more punked up version of Don’t Cry was the welcome surprise that makes seeing a good band live worthwhile.

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It’s also a pleasure to see a band that is so talented that they simply can’t lose each other.  At times one got the feeling that one or another component of this elite musical unit was pushing to go AWOL, but that kind of thing can’t happened when all the members’ skills are so evenly matched.  What results instead is the feeling of an added, embedded tension, a new edge to familiar material.

And now, a word about Deerhunter’s backline: Moses Archuleta is an unflappable human metronome of frightening precision.

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Lockett Pundt’s presence as stage forward vocalist is a welcome addition to the Deerhunter oeuvre, one of the things that made the sound of this new record such a huge evolutionary step for the band.  Where Microcastle/Weird Era could be said to have been a polishing, a realization of the sounds hinted at on a Cryptogram tune like Hazel St., Halcyon Digest is a departure into new atmospherics.  The band has the advantage of being as tight as it was on Microcastle, but the quiet, musing tone struck by so many of the loop-heavy tracks almost makes it sound like it was recorded by a different band.  Lockett has a subdued rock tendency that’s a counterpoint to the Atlas Sound-reminiscent technological flourishes on the new album, and his wistful, detached, confident style of singing seems to be singlehandedly resurrecting the dying American Monomyth.  Where Deerhunter subject matter seems to swirl unanchored in memory, he haunts the record like Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, calmly coaxing us out to take up our executive privileges on the perimeter on the Halcyon Digest track Desire Lines, which song was flawlessly performed on Wednesday, by the by.  I

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Atlas Sound at Music Hall of Williamsburg 10/21/09

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It comes as no surprise to this reviewer that I got a ticket to the Atlas Sound show at Music Hall of Williamsburg as soon as tickets went on sale.  Nothing would be left to chance for me in the idle man’s game that is CMJ, the only world-famous rock festival that isn’t a festival.  If you’re a million shows all over one of the biggest me-first shit show cities on earth and you can’t guarantee admission to someone who has a badge, you’re just a whole bunch of hyped shows and a bunch of dollars richer, CMJ.

The new Atlas Sound record came out this past Tuesday, October 20.  Entitled Logos, it hews more closely to the focused dreaming of the world-changing last Deerhunter record, Microcastle/Weird Era Continued, than the preceding Atlas Sound release from 2008, Let the Blind Lead those Who can See but cannot Feel.

The first opener, Atlanta’s Selmanaires, was the the second band I have seen in a week who would go on to support the headlining act as the backing group.  They opened the set with some dopey and lurching psychedelic rehash replete with go-nowhere tooting organ noises and vaguely middle eastern tuning.  After a song or two of that I went back to the bar to read.

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I parked my ticket stub in my book when Broadcast took the stage.  I remembered liking the tracks that KEXP had played from 2005’s Tender Buttons when that record was new.  They were stripped and simple, noisy but not unintelligible gems of foreboding electro pop.  The songs from that record even now remind me of the eerily clean and unencumbered fuzzy and ostensibly innocuous paeans to death and sex that Trevor Kampmann was putting out as hollAnd a few years earlier— most notably “Oh, Death” and the rest of the songs from 2001’s Drums.  Two tracks are below, one from Broadcast’s Tender Buttons and one from hollAnd’s Drums, so that the clever reader may draw the comparison.

Aside from becoming more incrompehensible due to the wetness of the echo effect on Trish Keenan’s vox, Broadcast has in the long interim since that record developed into a noisier, more visually oriented duo, focused mainly on making an hour or so of noise with the occasional dramatic appearance of quantized synthetic beats accompanied by Keenan’s wailing.

To clarify, it was mainly wailing, but the complementary moan was now and again employed.  She dressed in a bit of a ghostly tunic, too, though they played in the dark, their own presence second fiddle to their Spirograph inspired video accompaniment.  When you hear the direction their sound has taken in its recorded form, it is readily apparent why the two acts were playing together- they both enjoy sitting on the saturated side of fuzzy atmospherics.  Live, it didn’t quite carry, though I enjoyed the set and I am glad I got to see them.

I can say so many nice things about Atlas Sound.  I have already said so many nice things about its parent project Deerhunter to have surpassed redundancy so often it’s like I’m a track star running laps.  What can I say?  It’s the act that restored my faith in modern music from the maximum depth of jadedness.

During his set, the self-effacing Bradford Cox bantered relaxedly about how ill-at-ease he was on stage that night, engaging the audience in conversation between reworked live versions of his loop-dependent, production-heavy new album and running between his position at the microphone with his mouth harp hanging over his shoulders and his guitar in his arms to the back of the stage to beat on the skins.  He hit nearly every track on the new record, ending alone on stage with the house lights up playing an electric guitar and loops version of the title track, Logos.  Sadly, Laetitia Sadier was not in attendance to lend her ethereal vox to “Quick Canal”.  That one was a glaring omission from the tracklist.

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Cox’s presence on the stage is confounding.  He jokes that he likes to go see Tyler Perry movies with his mom, that they unironically laugh about it together, and in a deadpan throwaway comment shrugs off the disappointment the audience must feel now that they know he has nothing dark or disturbing to offer.  One can tell he takes genuine joy in doing what he does so well, and as a presence, not just as the idea of a creative mind behind great music, you believe what he says.  His music, be it with Deerhunter or under the auspices of Atlas Sound, is so ghostly and often so dark lyrically, though, as to belie all that.  “Kid Klimax,” for example, recounts how the workaday life will, after it has robbed you of your zest for taking breath, numb even your ability to be moved by the fact.  He sings (as nearly as I can make it out) “You will grow to be untouched/unphased…oh my god, oh my god.”

In a world that has turned against you, you do not have the choice to live in another one.  What Cox’s music so often says in its sometimes unaffected and sometimes sad expression, is that the artist must choose to live in this world that has turned against us, be that life beset by trouble or drowned in rapture.  Life may appear to be a conspiracy, but one can learn to hear its chinese whispers as a joke.

More pics below.
Continue reading Atlas Sound at Music Hall of Williamsburg 10/21/09