September 14, 2008

Deerhunter: "Microcastle".

In celebration of Deerhunter's release of their third full-length Microcastle on iTunes (cd and LP release due out on Kranky records in early October), here's a review I posted under one of my many monikers a while back.

Deerhunter, a self-prescribed "Ambient-Punk" band from Atlanta, GA, have earned themselves the privilege of being reviewed fairly - meaning, all MBV comparisons aside - with their second Kranky release, Microcastle. If Cryptograms was a next step up from Turn It Up Faggot, then it can be rightly concluded that Microcastle is the next step up from the magnificent Fluorescent Grey EP, which saw the band progress away from lengthy ambient acid-trips and steer straight into the heart of darkness as a four-piece pop ensemble (what better way to do battle?). The label decided to package Deerhunter's Kranky debut with its' EP companion, recorded just after the Cryptograms sessions, but I now must contest; how lovely would it have been to package the EP with the new release?

Then again, we might not have received Fluorescent Grey as such a tremendous offering had it been overshadowed by a long-playing collection of similar enough material; the new LP and the previous EP would drown each other out. I must say, however - never have I felt such a strong sense of maturity, structural perfection and completeness from a four-track EP, and I don't see it happening again anytime soon.

All that being said, let me attempt an early review of August 2008's best new release. Microcastle begins with a short introduction, similarly enough to Cryptograms, though this time around we're presented with a neo-shoegazing reworking of the next track on the album, "Agoraphobia", with Bradford Cox's sky-high vocal instrumentation and some tremolo-armed guitar overdrive, all atop a slow, spacey beat that cuts through the subtle ambience. "Agoraphobia" really sets the mood for the rest of the album, which does not wander nearly as much as its predecessor, and Cox sings "Cover me, cover me, comfort me, comfort me" as we all float above the hustle and bustle of daily life to some new pasture amidst the clouds, where we definitely feel safe, yet we don't necessarily expect to stay (I guess this could be a musical representation of that nagging allusion to the reality that has been programmed into our conscious mind; a soaring beauty dipped in pain, the kind of "real" pain that no human being can possibly escape from). "Never Stops" begins as soon as our feet once again (and surely enough) touch the ground, and the group's post-punk roots peek through the clouds of guitar and vocal reminiscences. The innocence of Deerhunter's sound here plays wonderfully with the pitch black they're seemingly always one shade of grey away from. "Little Kids" sounds convincingly as ancient as was intended, like an obscure tune you'd hear on some late-night college radio oldies hour. "Microcastle" fools us all with its' seemingly uninspired stabbings at soft emotional depth, but suddenly kicks us all in the stomach and runs around the house with a Walt Disney smile, smashing dishes and breaking framed pictures over coffee tables (like they did in The Destructors; I never read it, though). "Calvary Scars" references the crucifixion, or a crucifixion, possibly and probably a metaphorical one of Cox (before his closest friends), and "Green Jacket" is his resurrection, once again to that pasture in the sky where time does not dictate reality. It must be said that Deerhunter's talent most definitely outweighs their skill as musicians, but when it's good (and remarkably free of pretense and noodling), what does it matter? "Activa" is more proof of this; Cox's far-off vocal cries blend nicely with a garage sale-sounding acoustic guitar, as it strums a looping succession of power chords through a light mist of background creaks and moans. "Nothing Ever Happened" is Microcastles "Cryptograms" (song), though the lyrical ferocity adds a fresh take on the musical energy from its' predecessor ("Nothing ever happened to me, righteous bastard flash right through me"), and I get the impression Cox's lament is a loaded gun aimed between the eyes of his critics for his dress-wearing, blood-smearing live antics (and quite possibly for attacks on his sexual orientation and blog habits). "Saved by Old Times" could be a Kinks b-side, featuring a very definite classic rock influence and a slow, steady post-punk beat. "These Hands" is the only disappointment of the album, and it sounds more like the guys started putting bits and pieces of their unreleased ideas together than anything else; the drums resemble a military drum-roll, and the guitars just kind of...are. Even Cox's vocals are uninteresting, for once. Luckily, "Twilight at Carbon Lake" makes up for lost steam in the previous track, and is described nicely as equal parts doo-wop and slowcore, adding just a hint of variety and closing out a very strong album on a thoughtful note.

Microcastle is a long-awaited flavor still drooled-over by many devoted fans and critics alike, and though the album leaked already, I've got my money on that shiny piece of etched vinyl due out in early August; I hope you all do too. Until then, we have the mysterious underwood that is Fluorescent Grey and Cryptograms.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

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