Deerhunter: Monomania

Deehunter’s Monomania will be released May 7, 2013 but, as part of a trend that is making me feel like all my tastes are completely outdated, NPR has it available to stream and listen to online in its “First Listen” section now.

Deerhunter’s last record, Halcyon Digest, is now three years old.  It was a remarkable record, but it’s sound was marked by the fact that, at the time of its release, the two creative poles in the band were clarifying the sound of their respective solo projects.  Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza and Bradford Cox’ Atlas Sound were each to drop definitive records in the wake of Halcyon Digest.  Hearing Lotus Plaza’s Spooky Action at a Distance and Atlas Sound’s Parallax made it seem as though Halcyon Digest were more a collaboration of two side projects than the internally consistent output of one band.  Cox was (monomaniacally?) fixated on the use of looping pedals, and songs like “Fountain Stairs” found their long-form perfection over the course of Pundt’s Spooky Action.

It’s good when a band can mix things up and change expectations, and few groups can pull this off.  Deerhunter did on Halcyon Digest, but gone was the sock-hop gone freakout bad vibe that infused Cryptograms and Microcastle/Weird Era Continued.  Monomania, then,  is a return to form.  Perhaps the record’s title is to some degree a tongue-in-cheek nod to this need to home back in to the familiarity of the band’s screaming swirl of noise, and to those influences that seem to be displayed so ostentatiously on these new songs.  Never had Deerhunter’s debt to the Pixies and Breeders seemed so apparent to this reviewer than on “Dream Captain”, and is it possible that “Leather Jacket II” carries the lipstick traces of Garbage?  The title track has that by-now-trademarked pounding, repetitive feature, be it bridge, chorus, or solo, that marks so many of the most signature Deerhunter tunes (“Nothing Ever Happened”, “Memory Boy” are two good examples) reduced to the barest minimum of performance time.  Indeed, if anyone has seen the band perform “Nothing Ever Happened” more than once over the past several years, they have surely been left with the impression that the band is both playing the song through as quickly as possible out of annoyance over having produced a “hit” that can so readily pigeonhole them for fans and to somehow imbue it with more power, to concentrate the power of that song into a single grammatical flourish.  “Monomania”, the title song, leans more in this latter direction, seemingly only slipping between the open spaces of the verses in order to rage back into the fuzzed-out canyons of sound in the chorus.  There’s also what sounds like the recording of a motorbike engine all over the last half of the song.  That’s pretty cool.

Here you go, all you lost your edge indie rock types.  Deerhunter’s new record on NPR.

Musique in le 2010

What a year.

My apartment burned down, I got into a PhD program, I got engaged, I spent the summer sweltering in the Midwest, I got married, I drove across the entire country with my wife, and I just finished my first quarter as a doctoral candidate.

Did I listen to any music?  Let’s perform a simple diagnostic test that will tell us the answer.

Diagnostic Question: Was I alive at any point during 2010?

Answer: The aforementioned details of what went on would indicate yes.

Result of diagnostic analysis: I listened to music in 2010.  This is what I really got into.

LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening

Clean and long-form dance songs about how terrible and shallow people are in New York.  For some reason this really spoke to me this year.  There are also some meditations on commitment once and for all to yourself or another person, commitment to the wrong person, making the mindless sex with the funny people who have to drink and pretend they don’t want to make the sex before they make the sex, and sticking to your guns.  End of shipping manifest.

Wild Nothing: Gemini

This record transformed the stifling inland old-growth Southern Indiana/Moon of Endor jungle where I spent the summer sweating myself into a damp raisin into a hazy place of dreams and pining.  Wild Nothing is VA dude Jack Tatum, and what he achieved here made it safe for men to cry again, to cry little girlie tears of winsome loneliness into the 150% humidity of a million degree summer night.  Reverb washes from these songs across miles of imaginary sepia toned highways, while jangly faeries hold your sniveler’s hand and you weakly bop to the no-balls-at-all vocals and the distant drums, too limp-wristed to masturbate.  Seriously, this is a really good record.

Kurt Vile: Constant Hitmaker

For some reason this came out in 2008.  I didn’t know anything about this until my buddy DC and his crew at WWALT alerted me to the fact that I was already deeply in debt and I didn’t know it.  I was in debt and I needed to pay my respects to Mr. Kurt Vile.  I have done so, and I continue to do so with interest.

Though the tome of wisdom that is comprised of Vile’s work can be opened to any page for enlightenment, this is the album that does my soul the most good.  Every song takes you back into the womb of the blues, where mother earth’s arterial amplifier hum swishes all around your foreverdreaming ears and Momma never kicks you out of the house.

Squarepusher: Squarepusher Presents Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator

Tom Jenkinson, or Squarepusher, is the guy Radiohead looks up to as their Radiohead.  See the trailing bits of the below interview he gave to BBC2’s The Culture Show for Thom Yorke’s kudos if you want proof.  If you sit through the part of the piece intervening between the start and the finish of the interview, and I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t want to, you will gain a valuable insight as to why Jenkinson’s work always stands out as such an individualized oeuvre.  As he puts it, he tries to keep a “hermetic” approach to his work, to let what he is expressing develop with limited influence from or intertextuality with trends that sweep through music at any one time.  I listened to nothing but this record for several weeks straight as it deeply and tortuously carved from the inside of my head the high chambers of Squarepusher’s new cathedrals of tone.  Everything on this record, from art to composition to the engineering of the sound, is a high resolution postcard from a new world.  He has pulled in the reins and diverted from his last few performance jazz influenced records to revisit some earlier themes of otherworldly R&B and sharp synthesizer crunch, culminating in a record that could just as easily have been named “Oh my god” if the demonstrative appropriateness of the record’s title had been deemed important than being cryptic and awesome.

Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

Sure, fine, I’ll reduce this record to an oft-reproduced blurb singer/songwriter/guitarist Bradford Cox posted on his Facebook page around about the time of this record’s release.  He said that the title is a reference to “a collection of fond memories and even invented ones…The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember and how that’s kind of sad.”

What is it really?  It’s a painful and ecstatic faceplant on the very edge of spiritual awakening, if you take the subject matter of “Don’t Cry” or “Revival” at face value.  I’m just one listener/fan/critic, but these sound like meditations on how a person at the end of their rope can turn toward faith instead of away from it when they’re at the very terminals of extremis.

The record’s a desire-gone-cold reflection on lost youth and gained cynicism, on life lived on the perimeter if you take “Desire Lines” (sung by guitarist and vocalist Lockett Pundt) at its word.  “Memory Boy” is a tribute to the departed Jay Reatard if I ever heard one.  The opening riff is pretty reminiscent of the former Deerhunter collaborator’s track “Before I was Caught” from his final album, Watch me Fall.

The limitless talent and the fearlessness with which Deerhunter put out their new music is incontrovertible, unassailable.  It is the only true mark of an artist.  At the end of the day or the end of a life, what does one have but one’s work?  The simple fact is that we, all of us, know that we have nothing if we have not remained true to our talents and our ideal selves, to THE IDEAL SELF locked like a minotaur inside the maze of mysteries or miseries he or she must decipher alone.  Deerhunter is a pack of monsters who live that human axiom to its rarely practiced extreme.  I unabashedly love this band with their shimmering atmospherics, their endless experimentation, and their personal lyrics.

Caribou: Swim

A weird trip through handcrafted techno.  This album which I thought completely programmed in a DAW is actually completely played live.  It’s cold-weather music for weird headspaces.

Lloyd Cole: Broken Record

My wife, she of the impeccable musical taste who is always teaching me something new, she introduced me to Mr. Lloyd Cole during our courtship.  Maybe first she slipped me “Like Lovers Do” during one of those stealthily competitive and eminently meaningful exchanges of single songs that takes the place of exchanging mix tapes in the digital era, and, when I was sufficiently whammied by that, by the depth and breadth of her musical knowledge and her acumen in discerning killer songwriting, she closed in for the kill with the masterful and timeless “Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?”  That could be how it came about that I became a fan of Lloyd Cole.

Then, there we were with a 3,000 mile road trip ahead of us.  Thank the songwriting gods with every pagan rite they demand that Lloyd Cole put together a top-notch country band to back up his melancholy musings and Westerbergian turns of phrase just in time for our departure.  It starts eloquent and sad, lamenting the pratfalls of self-involved lovers on the skids in tracks like “Like a Broken Record” and “Writers Retreat!”, and it ends elegant and glad with overtures like “Oh Genevieve” and “Double Happiness”.  On the way he manages to touch the fuck you kiss off base as well, with the resignedly exasperated- but not too hurt- “That’s Alright.”

Thanks, Lloyd.  Glad to see you weren’t afraid to be heartbroken again.

Matthew Dear: Black City

Black city is a wild meander through the secret ghettos of techno, where the locals will tell you there’s nothing to do, but from the windows waft strange vocal stylings and the streets throb with secrets.

Shy Child: Liquid Love

Have you ever been wrong, said something in foolish youthful bravura you wish you could take back?  I have.  I’m sorry, Shy Child, but I was wrong about your new record when I first heard it.  I thought that your last record, Noise Won’t Stop was the pinnacle of what your work was going to amount to.  All the staccato breaks, the overpowering, interweaving lead synth lines, the barely comprehensible shouting over all that musical intensity.  It was so tight and immediate.  How was I supposed to be prepared for this shift into measured genius, into subtle groove?  I wasn’t up to the task.

I’ve spent the year listening to the new record, Liquid Love, however, and I’ve changed my ways.

Have you ever come to the realization once you took inventory of how many of a certain group’s CDs you had or how many plays of an artist’s songs you’d racked up on your MP3 player, that you were a superfan of a band, or that that one record you’d been overlooking was, unbeknownst to you, in actuality your favorite?  That’s how the ballad of me and Shy Child would go.

Like LCD Soundsystem, Shy Child is a New York band that has learned how to put the space and pace back into dance music.  That’s where I’ll stop that comparison, though, because Shy Child is doing something else entirely in all other respects.  They’re a band that bites all the cheese of ’80s synthesizer decadence and cornball delivery, they steal riffs from Tango in the Night era Fleetwood Mac and vocal cadence from Hall and Oates, but they are still firmly entrenched in dance music.  Between albums they’ve learned to sing and not shout, and the deliberate delivery of their carefully designed synthesizer sounds is a testament to a commitment to musicianship that goes beyond the berserker bombast of their last album.  Arpeggios, sleazy slow disco-paced beats, throbbing basslines, and vocal harmony strung up over all the neon.  An almost total lack of that dilettante’s crutch, irony.  This is absolutely one of the best records of the year.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks

In the world according to Ted Leo, we are all terminal cases- unless we stand up, once and for all, and hear the tracks he’s laying down.

The hardest working man in Rock ‘n Roll is also the only actually earnest, tireless, unimpeachably incorruptible, driven, and humanist artist to aspire to the concert stage since the baby boomers popularized those tenets as a disguise for their avarice and consumerism in the ’60s.  He’s a real punk.

He and his Pharmacists put together a big, lush set for their Matador Records debut this year marked by a speed, vivacity, and urgent intensity that has only grown more remarkable over the course of an already long and wonderful career in music.

And this is the thing about Ted Leo.  He’s not cashing in, he’s not slowing down, he’s not mellowing out.  He believes in his art and he believes in his message, and he backed that up this year with some of the hardest-driving music he’s put out to date.

“Where Was my Brain?”, the song from which the album’s title was taken, has these quintessentially Ted Leo lines, lines that really, really spoke to me this year:

Well modern agriculture gave me my fill/until I saw the things it brutally killed/well modern architecture gave me a kick/until I lived among the brutalist bricks/where was my brain?/with me all the time/getting it wrong again.

Sporting influences from Squeeze to Thin Lizzy (and millions of local stops in between I am not even qualified to speak to), the man, the songwriter, the band continues to set the world on fire, bathing it in the light of warning flares and messianic abandon.

Sebastien Tellier: Sexuality Remix

How many times in a row have you felt compelled to play a remix album?  I didn’t think I could love the material on last year’s Sexuality by Sebastien Tellier any more.  It was verging on carnal.  Then this remix collection dropped.

Small Black: New Chain

This one has been growing on me, all new wave and echo.  The opening track sucks you in with a combination of The Cure’s “Pictures of You” and Psychedelic Furs’ Pretty in Pink, and then the record just takes off.

Sweet Lights: S/T

This Sweet Lights S/T is a great record for fans of Kurt Vile and the Beatles, a good slow-grow set that I can’t say I deliberately put on for straight-through listening, but that came on randomly often enough, always giving me pause to see who it was, that I came to love it front to back.  There was a reason this never came off my iPod all year.

Bear Claw: Refuse this Gift

Pure Chicago aggression, pure aggro intensity, pure obsessive method.  This is one of the most inventive, intense, aggressive, and sonically interesting recordings I’ve heard in a very long time.  No guitars, only basses.  There isn’t anyone else out there doing what Bear Claw is doing.  Small wonder Steve Albini listed them as one of his favorite bands.

Washed Out: Life of Leisure

Normally I revile music that trades in a false sense of nostalgia, but there is something really happening here.  Digital aliasing brought on by downsampling, fuzzy filtering, the trappings of overbearing tape compression, slow compressors that mean each instrument is pushing the other one out of the way in the mix- all these things are here along with a dreamy 1.5 times slower speed to the swing tempo that really makes you feel like you are somewhere better, in the sun and on drugs.

Against Me! White Crosses

The follow-up to 2007’s Sire debut New Wave, Tom Gabel’s Against Me! are riding the Butch Vig big drum express deeper into pop territory.  Good thing they are bringing all that ordnance.  Sentimentality, power pop, strong lyrics (as always) and slick production find  Against Me! still waving the punk flag.  After the anthem of New Wave‘s “Thrash Unreal”, I didn’t think it was possible for him to make another sad song such a Springsteen-y stadium rocker.  Yeah, he gets sadder on this one, and bigger.

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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A Saturday Playlist for Weekend Afternoons that Turn into Evenings

Time does get away from one.  When living a life you keep under your hat inarticulate, sometimes you fall back on making lists of songs that would go well with a chilly autumn Saturday afternoon.  Don’t you know it.

What have I been doing?  I managed to get out to see Jesse Malin and Gaslight Anthem last night at the luxurious Brooklyn Bowl.  Brooklyn Bowl is a place out of a fictional New York.  It’s something from a movie about New York at the height of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street era hubris with a little of that vulgar Cash is King Saturday Night Fever mentality about it.  When you’re inside the squeaky clean and enormous cathedral of entertainment beneath its gleaming TV screens and ensconced in its unreality you have a hard time reminding yourself that, hey, there aren’t places like this in New York City, because there you are.

Jesse Malin finished his set with a tirade against the largely unmoved crowd, a tirade about precisely that suburban imperialization of the city, a city in which everyone is hip and brand name and friends with everyone else- everyone’s cool and it’s cool because, as Malin mentioned, you’ve gotten rid of everyone else who isn’t like you in imperial Williamsburg.  I’m not sure the crowd even knew who he was.  Shame, because he played a great set.  He definitely played a better set than  the marble-mouthed and groove-impaired Murder by Death who who followed him.  The kids really went all in for liking those guys, but there really wasn’t much in the messy miasma of their sound to like.  They play a breed of music that jumps the shark while chasing authenticity.  It’s like wearing Americana as drag.  It’s been 150 years since it was 150 years ago, guys, and you’re not Lazarus back from the dead.

They need to get rid of one of their bassists.  I say the big dude takes a hike- the cute blonde was positively molesting her cello and I was rapt.

Gaslight really didn’t put on a show with the same verve and messy punk swing to it as I’ve seen them do before.  The bookmarks are falling out of their fakebook and the highlights are fading from the songs they reference.  It’s amazing what this band was able to do- create an entire critically lauded  album imbued with positive energy out of references to other songs.  I love the album, but their hearts didn’t seem to be in it last night.  The bros really seem to have gotten into these former scrappers, and Gaslight threw them the bone of doing a Pearl Jam cover.  Something tells me they’re heading into a serious sophomore slump.  I guess you can take some guys out of Jersey but you can’t necessarily take the Jersey out of some guys.

I saw the Dodos on Wednesday, clean whiteboy twee without an ounce of soul, but man that guy can play the acoustic guitar.  The band has great vox and mastery of the ax, but can’t anyone play a sleazy sexy beat anymore?  Does everything have to be happy and copacetic?  This is how the yuppies relax in their natural habitat.

Tomorrow is David Bazan and next week is Atlas Sound, and for these I am genuinely excited.

Buddyhead is back.

When did this happen?  What a slick new website, what snarky, incisive, bullshit-cutting-through writing!  What a lot of video and stuff!

Hey, even I’m tired of talking about Deerhunter (who I’m seeing rain or shine today).  How about I let a very ill Bradford Cox and Buddyhead do the talking about Deerhunter in this interview.  Fuckin’ A!

My Boyfriend’s Dead: Buddyhead VS Deerhunter from Buddyhead on Vimeo.

Deerhunter Plays Williamsburg on Sunday

Free Soma

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I know that I talk ad nauseum about the band Deerhunter, and I know that my friends are also quite aware that I talk incessantly about the band Deerhunter when the topic of music comes up.  I have written a thing or two about Deerhunter, I have listened to Deerhunter records, Deerhunter, Deerhunter, Deerhunter.

So, how happy am I that they are playing the free JellyNYC show tomorrow afternoon at the East River Terminal Park in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn?  That is a rhetorical question the answer to which is meant to be very obvious, but you are free to conjecture in the comments form.  A free Deerhunter show is free Soma.  Ford is in his flivver, as far as I am concerned.

I gushed about the band here in the recent past to inaugurate the release of the Rainwater Cassette Exchange, and I mean everything I say about the grand happy circumstance of having such a committedly new band hard at work providing the world new vistas to think on.

Rainwater Cassette Exchange is excellent, but the record I cannot stop playing to this day, that will not be removed from my iPod, is the full-length preceding it- Microcastle/Weird Era Continued.  There is no comparison between the production value of the the new EP, which shares a muddy chromosome with the recently released Atlas Sound single, and last year’s double LP.  What I am hearing when I listen to the increasingly degraded sound quality of each consecutive recording (Rainwater to Atlas Sound) is a band that is trying to play to a preconceived idea of what they think they should be doing instead of just doing those things that define their genius.

Atlas Sound is one of Deerhunter hetman Bradford Cox’s side projects.  The new Atlas Sound single, “Walkabout” (you can hear it at Pitchfork), sounds a lot like something off of The Russian FuturistsThe Method of Modern Love from 2001.  Below is The Russian Futurists “The Science of the Seasons” from that record.

The Atlas Sound aesthetic has always been something striving toward a lo-fi prettiness, and that is part of the problem.  Lo-fi is an affect.  Bradford Cox and Deerhunter find their strength precisely in their ability to synthesize their influences into surprising configurations- They please and surprise in those quiet moments when the plink of a piano reminds you so strongly of a Neu! song you are shocked that the mix of the vocals or the tempo of the guitars take you in an entirely new direction, not when they are giving a ready-made notion a 1-dimensional try.  Deerhunter has a works cited in the appendix of their catalog longer than the King James Bible, but, for the necessity of all that musical knowledge in creating their sound, it is only incidental to how they synthesize it into a new whole.

The new Atlas Sound single sounds lazy by contrast, almost as though it is more dependent on out-of-the-box Acid loops than its genre forebears from the beginning of the decade, as though striving toward a sound that they think they need to achieve is standing in the way of letting them use their tools to create the sound they want to play.

As an oblique strategy this can definitely unlock new potential for a band, but it shouldn’t take top billing on the Marquee of their creative output.

This concludes my critical moment.  Now back to leaping with anticipation for tomorrow’s show, crossing my fingers in hopes that the rain holds off at least until they’ve finished playing, however appropriate playing a show in support of an EP with rainwater in the title during a shower might be on a neat symbolic level.

Diversion on a Monday

A weekend of halcyon days in the sun gone, a few tunes should be put on.

A few songs to put a person through an hour or so, to foment some small rebellion among the androids, to encourage a rising up against the civilized worm.  Give the human race a try, get back to the original heart.  Use the satellites in ways never intended- to truly connect to someone else.  Do your part to see that you’re not the last human being left standing; it does no good to be a Robinson Crusoe among the fully devolved.

Somebody do something today.  Everyone, do something today.