Halcyon Digest

Rating: 3.9/5.0

Label: 4AD

Even if one were to put aside some of the more unusual aspects of Bradford Cox’s personal life, he remains one of the most reliably captivating and prolific figures in music today. It became clear after 2008’s Microcastle and its companion Weird Era Cont. that Deerhunter had become band to take seriously, but it was Cox’s more personal side project, Atlas Sound, that established him as a bona fide talent. Logos, with its Noah Lennox and Laetitia Sadier collaborations and dips into straight-up pop music, found Cox stepping out on a limb, baring his soul and creating some of the most original and impressive music of the last few years.

Keeping the leapfrogging between his two acts going, the latest Deerhunter album, Halcyon Digest, soaks up many of the elements of Logos and applies them to the band’s slightly more rigid instrumental structure. Although you wouldn’t know it from the opening song, the atmospheric “Earthquake-” with its slow motion drum machine and acoustic guitar arpeggios- is much more reminiscent of Atlas Sound than anything Deerhunter has done in the past. It is a pure product of the studio, with sonic elements entering the fray only to disappear 20 seconds later in a cavalcade of new background noise. “Sailing” finds Cox treading water recently explored and perfected by the Walkmen- a plaintive melody wrapped around reverb-soaked electric guitar and limited accompaniment. It isn’t the most exciting five minutes ever put to record, but its calming simplicity, both musically and lyrically, is a welcome change of pace after the hit-or-miss ADD of the album’s first three tracks.

There are a few almost disappointingly textbook Deerhunter songs, such as “Don’t Cry,” a song that never allows itself to fully open up and reveal itself; chord changes hint at a new direction, but it remains tied to the same hook and whimpers out before hitting the three-minute mark. “Revival” is nearly the opposite, full of warm, smart texture that’s housed in an aimlessly wobbly song structure. The album’s puzzling trend of songs ending way too early, whether a good thing or not, continues on “Memory Boy,” when it is most certainly not a good thing. Its jangly folk-rock guitars and synth evoke the sound that Wilco was gunning for on Summerteeth, except that Deerhunter pull it off more naturally than an actual band of folk-rockers. Still, it’s just over two minutes while the occasional tedium of “Desire Lines,” with its stuttering rhythms and Eno-aping guitar solo, pushes seven.

Halcyon takes off in its second half, and it demolishes the first half because of how daring it becomes. “Basement Scene” takes the theme of Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” drenches it in lyrics about getting stoned and not waking up, as well as some especially tense white noise that lingers just close enough to make the pleasant melody from generations ago sound downright spooky. But it’s the following song, “Helicopter,” that has garnered the most pre-release praise, and rightfully so. The stuttering drum machine and chorus-drenched acoustic guitars of “Earthquake” are reprised for a slow and syrupy ballad that sounds like a ‘shroomed-out stepchild of Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” and Top 40 R&B. “No one cares for me/ I keep no company/ I have minimal needs/ And now they are through with me,” Cox sings in the song, which hones in on religion, drugs and an unspecified tragedy but still comes off as a little sunny in the same manner of Logos’ “Shelia”. It’s a mind-numbing success and one of the best songs Cox has produced to date.

The album’s two strangest songs wrap up Halcyon – the saxed-out barroom romp “Coronado” and the jittery “He Would Have Laughed.” Neither sounds like anything else on the album or from Cox’s career, and appropriately ends this collection, in which roughly half of the songs carry a similar sound and the other half are more reminiscent of the Atlas Sound “whatever, let’s see how that sounds” vibe. This Digest isn’t particularly cohesive and a few too many loose ends are left untied, but it wouldn’t be a shock to believe that’s how Cox likes it. Though it’s been said before, he certainly has a masterpiece or two ahead of him – and from the sounds of it, it’s coming sooner rather than later.

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