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Deerhunter

Rainwater Cassette Exchange

Rating: 4.0

Label: Kranky

Deerhunter, whose albums often verge on bloated excess, pretentious ego trips, are an excellent fit for the EP format, which Rainwater Cassette Exchange ably proves. Quick, finely honed, and with no fat to trim, Rainwater showcases all the best components of the group without any of the baggage you have to wade through on some of their albums.

With its longest track clocking in at just over five minutes, Rainwater is like Deerhunter gone pop, closer in sound to Bradford Cox’s side-project Atlas Sound than most of the Deerhunter canon, with Britpop influences in particular dominating this release. The eponymous opening track comes across like XTC on vacation, clickety-clackety island percussion jutting up against jangly guitars and Cox’s perplexing vocals, equally androgynous and pleadingly masculine. “Disappearing Ink” is deceptively simple, all post-punk drums, shoegaze guitars and ghostly harmonies.

Weirder still are moments like “Famous Last Words,” which is best described as Black Lips covering Sebadoh. With just the right amount of lo-fi production on the vocals with just the right kind of simplicity on the lead guitar hook, the song is like being at a club too early for a show only to be surprised by the house music being interesting instead of the usual faux-metal bullshit. That it’s followed by Bradford Cox’s best Peter Gabriel imitation with “Game of Diamonds” is all the more fantastic.

But the real star of the show is “Circulation,” which combines the right mix of Deerhunter’s trippier tendencies with their more dialed down pop tastes. Even though it has an almost two-minute stretch in which pretty much nothing but weird sampled channel changing happens, the song builds until it just fades away, demanding a replay. It’s probably not a sign of anything and it probably won’t be popping up again, but here it just works and hearing it over and over just feels right.

Of course, this EP probably has little to do with what the next Deerhunter album will be like. It’s more than likely a little exorcism of sorts before the band goes back into their heady, noisy home territory, but that doesn’t stop it from being an excellent, casual affair. Not exactly a classic but more than great, Rainwater Cassette Exchange is bound to be the soundtrack to more than a few summer roadtrips, played endlessly for a few months and then rolled out for the occasional winter mix tape here and there.

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