written by Chris Familton
It has been quite fascinating to watch Deerhunter evolve and develop their craft over the last few years. From the tripped out, grab-bag shoegaze of 2007’s Cryptograms to the produced and tighter sounds of 2008’s Microcastle theirs has been a progression towards indie pop royalty not dissimilar to the path taken by Pavement. Halcyon Digest sees the quartet changing direction once more and this time they have struck a curious sound that feels more like their natural place than their previous scattershot approach.
There is a ghostly aura about the album that is enhanced by the cover art of a starkly black and white dwarf in drag. The otherworldly nature of the music is a result of both the production and the songs themselves. Shying away from the big indie/krautrock flavours of Microcastle means they have retreated to a more organic place that doesn’t obfuscate the essence of the music with ‘performance’ or effects.
The first single from the record is Revival, an upbeat tune with a summery vibe to rival Devendra Banhart at his most dippiest. It possesses a great clunky rhythm that could have sprung from the mind of Chris Knox circa 1985 and reaffirms the suspicion that Deerhunter are essentially a pop band… yes they skirt around the edges teasing and taunting, but catchy melodies are what they do best.
Rather than being the future state of indie, Halcyon Digest is content to look back to the golden years of 60s pop with nuggets like the Byrdsian power pop of Memory Boy and Basement Scene with its all too familiar proximity to The Everly Brothers’ All I Have To Do Is Dream.
If you are thinking that this all sounds too retro and derivative then the good news is that there are also moments where Bradford Cox and cohorts ease into the relaxed, blissful drift that has always been – to differing degrees – a feature of their music. They create a wistful haze on Helicopter that swirls and washes around the speakers and it is one of the magical moments on the album.
Indie signposts are also still intact at potted points in the album’s tracklisting. Coronado is a the Strokes accompanied by saxophone, which is surprisingly pleasurable. Lockett Pundt’s Desire Lines is the straightest moment on Halcyon Digest with its simple and spiraling Interpol-esque guitar lines and lyrics about the trials and tribulations of growing older. It shows they still have one foot in that musical world, still reluctant to throw all their cards into one hat.
The album concludes with a dedication to Jay Reatard by his friend Bradford Cox. The song itself doesn’t give away much emotionally, nor does it descend into ‘oh what a tragedy, we miss you so’ territory. Cox sings ‘I get bored as I get older, can you help me figure this out?’ – perhaps alluding to the fact that much great music comes from boredom and creative experimentation, something the two men shared.
Deerhunter have crafted a wonderful new album and crafted is indeed the way it feels – lovingly so. It is gently paced and carries a contented tone about it. Cox is a restless, creative musician but here he and the band have reined in their eclectic tendencies to produce some fantastic music.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder