Deerhunter DeerhunterHalcyon Digest
4AD Since we met Deerhunter, barely four years ago, everything has happened suddenly and inexplicably, as if by the divine work of the Holy Spirit. What’s the best thing about them no longer being the exciting band we discovered in “Cryptograms”? Well, they’ve become a much better band, sweet and clever. Since their masterpiece “Microcastle”, the Atlanta group’s quality has been more than proven. But that’s not enough for them, and their brand-new “Halcyon Digest” only reaffirms itself as a new step ahead in the stations of the cross that they have set for themselves on their way to becoming the new indie paradigm. Like Arcade Fire or Animal Collective, Deerhunter holds the magic formula for the best pop ever written. A disturbing look, a magic sound, a heartrending testimonial ability: all of the elements that make them great are lined up with the stars in this work, with a firm, beautiful texture. Assimilating it in barely two weeks, along with the new monuments of The Walkmen, Marnie Stern, No Age, Sufjan Stevens, El Guincho, Antony & The Johnsons or How To Dress Well might fog up one’s vision. Nevertheless, something tells me that all of the benevolence that I have treated them with as a listener can only be reciprocal and Deerhunter’s virtues will remain intact however much time passes.
As innocent as the snow untouched by the sun, messiah Bradford Cox is the main miracle worker. Whether in Deerhunter’s works or those of Atlas Sound —and “Halcyon Digest” must be seen as the link in the chain between the two—he commands all that he touches, with a sorcerer’s care and skill. In both groups, what we hear is a devastating monologue, a melancholy soliloquy in which he bares and flagellates himself in front of the microphone. Suffering from the same Marfan Syndrome as Joey Ramone, Cox’s frail figure gives off an air of cosmic vitality. He is a tremendously special author. A person who wants only to age (is there a greater ambition in life?), but whose childhood memories weigh on him like lead. In “Halcyon Digest”, he sings with an expressive confidence that is even greater than in “Microcastle”, and he is stronger as a songwriter, revisiting “a compendium of real or invented memories.” In the title, you see a deformation of a “falcon” but we’re really looking at an ungainly, starving little bird. The cover is illustrated with a photograph worthy of Todd Browning, in which a freak is praying to the night. Strange and disturbing even for an album cover, the image couldn’t be more appropriate.
Lucid and logical, “Halcyon Digest” awakens abruptly from the interrupted tossing and turning of “Earthquake”. Then, “Don’t Cry” and “Revival” –carousels to ride on again and again—influence the parsimonious atmosphere that the group has been developing since “Rainwater Cassette Exchange”. They are two pears in syrup that lay the album’s key concepts out on the table. Loneliness and isolation, both past and future are then sublimated in “Sailing”, a song that, like the transparent lagoons of the equator of “Microcastle”, drift with a guitar like an oar, alone in the middle of a nocturnal ocean where the only travelling companion is one’s own body (“Nothing to see, except me”). With a crazy sax marking the beat and prodigious lyrics, “Memory Boy” bursts onto the scene as if it were Roxy Music , but an instant later it is sidling up to The Beatles. The guitarist, Lockett Pundt, who should also receive credit as second-in-command, writes “Desire Lines” to show us the other side of Deerhunter, the side more absorbed in instrumental developments.
The Everly Brothers, a sacred influence for Cox, appear in “Basement Scene” like ghosts whispering their famous “All I Have to Do Is Dream” in your ear. The home stretch starts with “Helicopter”. We hear a sort of zither, marimbas, and synthesisers stuck in a stream of water. The song sounds as if Animal Collective were submerged in the shark-infested waters of Disco Inferno. From here comes precisely the best compliment that can be made to a great song like this: it could fit in with no problem as the successor of “Merriweather Post Pavilion”. “Fountain Stars” tastes like a candy poisoned by Jim Reid, “Coronado” recovers the springy fanfare of the early Roxy and then passes through allusion to third parties to the very Brian Eno “He Would Have Laughed”. Recorded solo, with this song we pass over to the other side of the mirror. Word is that it is dedicated to his recently deceased close friend Jay Reatard, and one need not even argue when Cox’s raspy throat redeems itself (“I don’t need nobody on my back”). He cries because he thinks that he has run out of friends, and one thinks: Bradford, love, I can’t believe you’d say that.