Let’s get one thing straight. Atlas Sound is not Deerhunter. Deerhunter is not Atlas Sound. They are two separate Bradford Cox entities not to be debased by the media’s ubiquitous moniker mishmash. Consider Cox’s solo vessel the introverted, reflective stepbrother of Deerhunter, an extreme quality derived from its psych-folk emphasis and futuristic synth textures. As a result, Atlas Sound has always sounded appropriately like a solo act – personal, intimate, poetic – and less like a band even in its most grandiose moments.
Ironically enough, Atlas Sound’s third LP immediately pummels us twice with instrumentations and conceptions of quintessential Deerhunter tracks. “The Shakes” opens things with a clap-your-hands energy that is misleadingly not the work of a full-fledged band. Cox continues this accompanied sound with the murky, discordant guitar licks of “Amplifiers.” Although par for Deerhunter’s course, Cox bears the most accessible shade of Atlas Sound we’ve heard yet, perhaps due to the album’s glaze of production polish. 2009’s Logos, as distinct as it was from any Deerhunter offering, still washed away in the glory of excessively reedy, ’60s reverb. Parallax is the most modernized Bradford Cox work to date, and pop tracks like “My Angel is Broken” may have resulted in regurgitated material without this updated studio gloss.
Cox has always balanced his pop gems with the real meat of his albums: his elegies. The third track, “Te Amo,” marks the return of the whimsical, esoteric Atlas Sound. Ascending piano and synth roles intermingle in a pattern soon embellished by back-up trickles of colorful modulation. Like much of Atlas Sound’s oeuvre, it’s a demanding, acquired taste, as is the superior acoustic ballad (and perhaps the most personal Atlas Sound tune to date) “Terra Incognita.” But Parallax’s other companion pieces stumble in their humble flamboyance and fail to find their melodies. The heart of the loungey “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs” becomes overshadowed by its incomprehensible science fiction shell. The sedating “Doldrums” is a clumsy mess of samples and vocals that comes off as half-baked.
But even within these missteps, Cox’s usual foreboding themes of gloom and personal isolation seep through the woodwork. Mostly, the album seems to be penned with a cautious filter, though Cox says it most bluntly under the ethereal layers of “Terra Incognita:” “I know a place called love/ No one bothered me there/ No I was all alone.” The album’s somber title track is an even more jaded moment of despair when Cox croons, “Give me love/ Give me promises/ You never go away/ Never ask for help/ Yet your pain is probably equal.” Parallax continues to see Cox in true auteur form, but to be honest it took a good many listens before the songs became familiar. While more cohesive and accessible, the album lacks the discernible highlights, tracks and epiphanies that made Logos a success. Instead, Parallax showcases Cox’s more focused palette – which sometimes is a little too akin to Deerhunter for its own good – but should age just as well over time.
by Jory Spadea