Sunday, December 7, 2008

Building Castles in the Wind (Deerhunter CD Review) by Alison Ross

Building Castles in the Wind
by Alison Ross

The fact that the charismatically quirky singer for Deerhunter, Bradford Cox, resides somehwere in my own neighborhood, pleases me to no end because it means my community is imbued with the spirit of an artistic savant. We need more people like Cox in our creatively suffocated world.

Cryptograms, Deerhunter's second album, received rave reviews upon its release and enabled the band to become the daring darlings of the underground music scene. Of course, there have been overground connotations for the band as well, as both the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails have included Deerhunter as opening acts on their tours.

Cryptograms remains a monumental piece of work in my estimation, because of its uncanny ability to contrast lush ambient soundscapes with more abrasive sonic forays.

After Cryptograms, of course, came the EP Fluorescent Grey, which glows with shimmering aural portraits that weave in murkier elements as well.

On the band's new album, Microcastle, the band changes it up a bit, but does not wholly abandon its proclivity for soothing grandeur. However, the album does manage to venture into some interesting territory - most notably, motown and doo-wop sounds - adding more bizarre layers to their patented art-punk sensibilities.

The album still spans familiar ground, with inroads into Deerhunter's template of mellowed-out trance-inducing vibes, but the result of those songs is not as hypnotically mesmerizing as it was on Cryptograms. Of course, there is a transcendent feeling conjured from such layered ambience, because Deerhunter is incapable of making aloof tunes - the band's music utterly sweeps you into a swirling vortex of glimmering colors.

But it seems there is a more deliberate tactic here, in the sense that the band is cultivating a more approachable sound, one that bridges their past intensely ethereal moodscapes and alternating brash garage punk with musical elements from other eras without being too alienating to either their burgeoning mainstream audience or the band's fervently hardcore fanbase.

On this album Bradford Cox's voice is a bit less blatantly noticeable than it has been on previous efforts. He still employs his falsetto flourishes to lovely effect, but his vocals are not fully featured like a prominent instrument as before. Rather, his vocals are intuitively integrated into the songs so that the focus is less on Cox's vocal persona and more on the charismatic character of the music.

It's always a joy to climb in and explore the multi-layered castles created by Deerhunter, who rein supreme as the kings of innovative artistry.

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