Thursday, November 20, 2008

Deerhunter, "Microcastle"

Microcastle ****1/2

Who is Deerhunter? They are an Atlanta-based band led by Bradford Cox. If you were having a Deerhunter-themed drinking game, take a shot for someone mentioning that Cox suffers from Marfan's Syndrome. Take another shot for someone talking about their short but erratic history, which includes the death of a member, and other rather surreal moments. Take two shots for someone describing them as "outsiders," which is the case, as even though they are one of the more acclaimed indie groups, they still have trouble blending in or getting that universal respect from the indie crowd, which similar bands get. And just get smashed when someone ponders what genre they are. On their Wikipedia page, they are described as the following: noise rock, art rock, psychedelic rock, ambient, shoegaze, post punk. I hear all of those influences, and maybe add a little krautrock, but it's still baffling to decide what genre they're in.

Their new album Microcastle, the follow up to their breakthrough Cryptograms, is just like that. It's a rather baffling album, but it's a beautiful work. It's also sometimes inspiring. The album opens up with "Cover Me (Slowly)," a droning one-minute track that sets the mood of the album, and from the most unlikely influence, Pink Floyd. Maybe I have unwittingly insulted the band in some way. Prog rock is almost like a curse word in the indie world. The first track really sounds like Bowie's "Low." Are they happy now?

It continues with "Agoraphobia," which reminded me of Pavement's later work, and it's an atypical indie rock song, with Cox crooning "Comfort Me" over and over again over a pretty melody, but unlike some indie rock songs which seem to rely on being down, this one makes you feel a little up. "Never Stops" continues with the trend of unconventionality by the band, as once again, a typical indie rock song is turned on its head, with sputtering guitar feedback closing out the song. "Little Kids" also ends this way, as their Pavement song becomes a My Bloody Valentine song. The title track is a quiet ballad that midway through the song becomes a nerdy psychedelic jam, sounding like the Beatles' White Album.

"Calvary Scars" sounds like something the krautrock (experimental German bands from the '70s) band Can would do, a short track with strange swooshing sounds and droning guitars. The next two songs are also like this, as they are short ballads with anti-melody and cryptic lyrics. And since I name-dropped krautrock earlier in this paragraph, the next song is my favorite on the album, "Nothing Ever Happened," a droning six-minute jam that sounds like Pavement did an album of Neu! covers. It's groovy and fun, as the band masters the motorik beat as if they created it. The final songs continue with this post-psychedelic, or freak folk, or New Weird America, or whatever damn genre you want it to be, and it closes off with "Twilight at Carbon Lake," a slow ballad that just beautifully builds up the noise at the end, and it surmises the album perfectly. This album is what it is, a collection of beautiful songs that will confuse you, but inspire you. This doesn't make much sense. Then again this is Deerhunter I am talking about. This band doesn't make much sense.

Another thing that doesn't make much sense are the genres and the band names being name-dropped here. I frequently mention Pavement, and why not? Most indie rock bands nowadays are influenced by Pavement in some way or another. Pavement was very unpretentious, making simple, straightforward rock rather wonderfully. Deerhunter has taken Pavement influence and rebuilt it with new weird textures. It's beautiful stuff, really. Who needs a genre when you have made a great album? Deerhunter have proved that with Microcastle.

"The Stoop Kids are afraid to leave their stoop"

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