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.
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