Sometimes it's harder to write a review of a great album than it is for a poor one. I want to lump so much praise onto Deerhunter that it's just going to sound like I don't listen to any other bands, and it would not be fair if I did not admit that, at the moment, that is just the case. The last albums I bought since Microcastle were Portishead's Third, REM's Accelerate, and Be Your Own Pet's Get Awkward. I've been stuck in my own personal financial meltdown and can only spend money on the things I regard as essential. Thus, no new Sigur Ros album. No new Weezer album. No new Fucked Up album. No new Of Montreal album. No new Portastatic album. No new Trail of the Dead EP. No new Cure album. No new TV on the Radio album. I could go on, but Deerhunter holds a special place in my heart, and I know Bradford Cox is one of the most consistently great artists to establish himself since Mac Mccaughan, and thus merits the spending of my money.
Deerhunter's self-titled debut is somewhat poorly regarded, and that's a shame because while it might not make a top 10 end-of-year list, it would surely deserve to be in the top 50. "N. Animals" and "Adorno" are great songs, and "Death Drag" is pretty good too, and none of the other six or seven are hard to get into. I consider it a very good album, above a 7.0 on the Pitchfork scale. Still, Cox has referred to the album as "pre-cum"--meaning he didn't really know how to shoot the wad until Cryptograms. You will find that album near the top of Flying Houses best albums of 2007 list, as it was on many other music journalism rags. It ran neck-and-neck with Radiohead's latest opus in my estimation, and the addition of the perhaps even better Flourescent Grey EP adds up to one of the finest musical gestures in recent memory (comparable to 2007's similarly-great double entry by Of Montreal with Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and the Icons, Abstract Thee EP) Cryptograms is great, full of skewed pop immediacy and MBV-esque noise bliss outs. Still, some might skip around on it, past the two "Ink" tracks, or "Providence" or "Tape Hiss Orchid," just to get to the title-track, "Lake Somerset," "Octet," "Strange Lights," or the best song they had done yet at the time, "Hazel St." Every song on Flourescent Grey was amazing, especially the closing throw-down "Wash Off."
As if that were not enough, not quite a year later, Cox released his first solo album under the Atlas Sound moniker, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel. This is reviewed on Flying Houses and I don't want to get into how great it is again. If you just need to hear one song off of it, find "Ativan," and you will understand why I love it so much. I don't know if I've heard enough new music to make a top 10 of 2008 list, but the Atlas Sound album would certainly make the cut, no question. And so would Microcastle, and it would probably occupy a higher slot. It ups the ante from Cryptograms + Flourescent Grey by adding a longer "bonus" disc--Weird Era Continued, which is not quite as strong as Microcastle, but which contains several moments that few other bands could match.
Microcastle opens up with "Cover Me (Slowly)," which is not different from the opening found sound piece "A Ghost Story" off the Atlas Sound album, in that it is a little song which segues perfectly into the second track, "Agoraphobia," one of the standout tracks here. It creates tension by featuring Lockett Pundt on vocals, though one might almost confuse one singer for the other. This is a simple wonderful little song, that also acts as a perfect segue to the amazing third track, "Never Stops," where Cox announces his presence by singing, "I had dreams/that frightened me awake," before the song begins its gallop which will not end until you switch to the second CD.
The fourth track "Little Kids" is a breather of a moment, which then breaks into stride when it hits Cox lamenting, "To get older still/To get older still..." The fifth track, the title-track, is not the stomper of the title-track from Cryptograms but is more like one of the free noise pieces off that previous album, of which there are markedly less here. The sixth track "Calvary Scars," is a short little thing with an extended version featured as the last track on the second disc. Short or long, it's a great little punchy song. I always think it's the part of the song "Microcastle" when it gets really awesome, but it's really its own song (Ed. Upon further review, it is the part of "Microcastle" when it gets really awesome, and "Calvary Scars" is pretty much just a barely noticeable little quiet song--but it's still well-appointed). "Green Jacket" and "Activa" are the next two songs, and these represent the "quiet movement" of the album and are pretty little things that won't cause you to lose your shit but which might make nice little items on that mixtape you're waiting to make for your latest crush.
After these two quiet ones comes the best song on the album "Nothing Ever Happened," which is also, awesomely, the first single, and awesomely, the longest song too. There is not a dull moment on this song and it could be played on any alternative rock radio station in the country, if Deerhunter wanted it to be. The guitar playing is absolutely incredible on this song. It has a very immediate opening and it doesn't let up until it's over.
The next three tracks, the last three tracks on the album, are also similarly wonderful. "Saved by Old Times" is close to the level of "Agoraphobia" and is great. "Neither of Us, Uncertainly," might be one of the best penultimate album tracks ever, and "Twilight at Carbon Lake" might be one of the best closing album tracks ever. You want to cry when Cox sings, "Walk to a parking lot/sit down and cry," and when it explodes for its ending finale, you will rarely feel a greater moment of catharsis. "Twilight at Carbon Lake" and "Nothing Ever Happened" are the two best songs on the album, but there is zero filler here, and others may prefer some other tracks.
I don't want to get too deep into Weird Era Continued just because it should be regarded as a bonus disc. This is not a double album, but it is very close in spirit to Radiohead's double album-esque Kid A + Amnesiac, except instead of Radiohead reinventing themselves to be introspective and dehumanized and quiet, Deerhunter reinvent themselves to be louder and more awesome and more nuanced, incredibly, than they already were. First track on Weird Era, "Backspace Century" is quality. I personally find "Operation" to be a little bit annoying but not everyone may feel this way. "Ghost Outfit" and "Dot Gain" are more like free noise tracks. "Vox Celeste" reminds me a little bit of "Hazel St," and is the track most likely to sound like shoegaze. "Vox Humana" has one of the greatest openings of any song Deerhunter has ever done, and is totally wonderful. "Cicadas" is more free noise. "VHS Dream" and "Focus Group" and "Weird Era" and "Moon Witch Cartridge" all work to differing effect. The final track "Calvary Scars II/Aux. Out" is fucking incredible and would make a higher price for this album with two discs totally justified, though I bought my copy from Reckless Records in Chicago for the stunning price of $11.99. Deerhunter are all of the best things about indie rock, including making their music affordable like Fugazi.
I remarked to a friend that this was the most emotional wonderful double album I had heard since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and it may be nowhere near as overblown as that career-defining statement, but it has a great, long, enjoyable running time, and it has moments that just totally make me want to cry in the same way (then, not now, in the case of Smashing Pumpkins). I'm going to see Deerhunter at Metro on November 15 and I am so pumped! I will take pictures and post a review of that concert as well. I had somewhat a small opportunity to talk to Cox before an Atlas Sound show at the Echo in Los Angeles last March, but he was already busy talking to someone who sounded like a journalist and I didn't want to bother him for no reason. I hope to get to talk to him in Chicago and ask him if it's okay if I include a song from Cryptograms in my second novel. I want to get a Deerhunter t-shirt and talk to Cox and try to hang out with him at a bar afterwards and party with rock stars. That would totally rule. Because they could be one of the biggest bands out right now. They're certainly one of the very best.