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New Atlanta Album: Deerhunter – “Monomania” (Josh Beech/MM)

08 May 2013

written by Mod Mobilian


Deerhunter: Monomania

Review by Josh Beech

Originally posted on Josh’s (Very Important) Record Blog


After the slowly coalescing trajectory of a sound that they’d finally finished scrubbing clean on the shimmering Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter’s (Atlanta) new follow-up, Monomania, is an unexpected step backwards, then sideways. The opening track’s title, “Neon Junkyard,” is a fitting alternate title for the album’s aesthetic, a glam graveyard populated by broken high heels and dirty needles. On most of the tracks, the vocals are smeared like morning-after mascara. The usually pensive, stream-of-barely-consciousness sound is supplemented if not altogether replaced by a facetious and mischievous swagger. The cover art recalls the alternate-reality dystopia of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a fitting set dressing for such an anomalous entry in the band’s catalog.

Singer/songwriter Bradford Cox’s “plastic rock’n’roll” tinkering started around the time his Atlas Sound (read: solo) album Parallax came out, in late 2011. He began embracing the glam-rock facade as a means of provocation, a promise that Monomania fulfills, from the stilted country of “Pensacola” to the one-two opening of the aforementioned “Neon Junkyard” and the haphazard “Leather Jacket II.” The strutting “Back To The Middle” is another good example of Deerhunter’s eschewing of indie pop in favor of a 21st century boy’s take on that ole timey rock’n’roll. “Nitebike” is a hazy comedown in a Bob Dylan mask.

Occasionally it drifts back to dreamy from nightmarish, such as on guitarist Lockett Pundt’s contribution, “The Missing,” which recalls the beatific Eno motorik of Digest’s “Desire Lines.” And even when it doesn’t stay in this warm place for very long, Pundt’s lead guitar is a voice as distinctive as that of Cox’s, leading the listener through hazier plateaus with shimmering melodies that few bands possess. It’s stress tested to an extreme degree on the title track, where the end drifts into pure noise oblivion that gradually unravels for nigh three minutes, tethered only by Pundt’s efficient guitar figure. In the past these noisier and less structured elements were segregated away from the “songs,” whereas on Monomania, they’re churning up dust in the songs themselves, occasionally derailing them deliriously.

Cox’s lyrics, as usual, fixate on unsavory attitudes and morbid stories. “In my head, there is something rotting dead,” he proclaims on “Monomania.” “Blue Agent” is, to hear Cox put it, a “song about espionage” in which he tucks the sentiment “if you ever need to talk, I won’t be around.” The album’s centerpiece, the breathless, gorgeous “THM,” tells the story of a suicide from the perspective of the victim’s older brother. “Hey man, you lose and you win some,” he says, closing the track, a shrug at the inevitable. The naive victim of “Dream Captain” begs to be abducted by “Starman” in a rape van.

Just when it looked like they may succumb to dream-pop “maturity,” Monomania comes along to remind the listener that this is the same band whose debut album was the antagonistic and noisy Turn It Up, Faggot. The psychedelia left unchecked, the psyche left unbalanced, it is an arrogant and confrontational album, and possibly their best.

Stream Monomania at NPR

Josh Beech believes in life after love.  He also writes JoshsRecordBlog, where this review and more can be found.

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