Deerhunter “Halcyon Digest”

4AD 2010

In 2008, Deerhunter released not one, but two of that year’s most revered albums. Only one was scheduled for release—Microcastle. But when it leaked to the internet, singer/songwriter Bradford Cox (also of Atlas Sound) decided to release an entirely different album to be included with retail versions. This new album was called Weird Era Continued. Though both are very different records, they have seen equal amounts of celebration in the indie rock community since their release, and not just because of the quality of the music itself. It was a move made by Cox to raise incentive to actually go out to a record store and buy a record, and whether or not it worked is a moot point. The intention was well-appreciated by music lovers everywhere.

With Halcyon Digest, Cox and his crew have made their anti-internet sentiments even more clear. Not only was the album not promoted through any internet portals whatsoever (which these days is completely against the norm), but it was obviously made with the record-buying public in mind. The vinyl was $15 at Love Garden, which is extremely cheap these days. Normally, that’s how much a vinyl costs if bought directly from a band at a show; record stores usually add at least two dollars to that, if not more. Accordingly, the packaging is very simple—a single, non-gatefold black-and-white sleeve and an inner sleeve with printed lyrics, obviously made with the intention of lowering the selling price. But this simplicity only serves to make Halcyon Digest seem like even more of a rock and roll record than it already is.

This brings me to the music itself, which represents outstanding growth for Deerhunter and an intimidating glimpse at their possibilities as a band. The beautifully undersold and aching melodies of Cox, whom I imagine to be a total hipster in all the worst ways (though still infinitely cool), seem to express a longing that he tries so hard to keep from us. Kurdt Cobain once said that when writing songs for In Utero, he tried consciously to keep his personal experiences out of the writing process; but in listening to those songs, it’s pretty obvious he was not successful. I get this same feeling about Cox. In “Helicopter”, when he sings “No one cares for me/I keep no company/I have minimal needs”, it’s as if he wants us to think he’s okay even in what sounds like a moment of desperation.

While the bulk of the material comes from Cox, the two songs contributed by Lockett Pundt are no less than stellar. As a matter of fact, his “Desire Lines” might be the album’s best track. It has that spiraling chord progression section at the end that is becoming a Deerhunter trademark, and it’s done here beautifully. But the best part about it—as with Halcyon Digest as a whole—is the no-bullshit approach. Yes, it’s swirling and psychedelic and complex, but it’s also not. In a way, it’s just a straight up rock and roll song. This idea is perhaps summed up best in the second side opener, “Basement Scene”, which gleefully cops a progression, lyric and vocal melody from the old rock and roll standard “Dream a Little Dream”. Everything comes from somewhere, and the members of Deerhunter know this. However, they also seem to understand the importance of mythology and the “untouchable” qualities of rock music, and they’re doing an incredible job of getting their tunes out into the world without compromising those values. ****1/2

The official video fro “Helicopter”…

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