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Deerhunter : Monomania

The phrase “back to basics” is one that we see thrown about quite readily these days, but in musical terms it’s rarely a good thing; all too often it’s indicative of a tired band struggling to come up with new ideas and instead either simplifying (read: dumbing down) their sound or rendering a career’s worth of artistic development null and void by offering up a poor imitation of their debut album. Thankfully, Deerhunter‘s sixth LP Monomania (out May 7 via 4AD) is a rare example of the good kind of “back to basics” album. Following their breezy psych-pop gem Halcyon Digest and the pristine production of frontman Bradford Cox and guitarist Lockett Pundt’s most recent solo releases (Atlas Sound’s Parallax and Lotus Plaza’s Spooky Action At A Distance) with a dirty, scuzzy noise-fest that sounds like it was recorded live at some crowded basement show might seem lazy on paper, but it may just be the smartest move the group could possibly have made. Monomania is the perfect reminder of why the blogosphere sat up and started taking notice of Deerhunter with 2007’s fuzzy, blown-out Cryptograms, but it makes no attempt to disguise the fact that subsequent albums have revealed them to be a tight, inventive unit revolving around a pair of first-class songwriters. For the most part, the drifting ambient passages and slick motorik rhythms that filled Microcastle, Weird Era Cont. and Halcyon Digest have been replaced with short, sharp bursts of white noise and urgent, bang-on-a-can drumming, the band seemingly keen to scramble to the point and onto the next one as quickly as possible; songs that would likely have stretched out beyond the six minute mark on earlier albums are here over and done in four (only the title track exceeds five), with Cox’s purported obsessions with Hank Williams and Bo Diddley pushed to the fore on the bluesy skiffle of “Pensacola” and the country-twanging “Dream Captain”. Glowing raw tracks like “Neon Junkyard” and “Leather Jacket II” are more in keeping with the group’s glam-punk roots, allowing Cox to indulge his bratty diva persona more freely than he has since the days when he used to wear dresses on stage, whilst the art-poppy late album run of “T.H.M.”, “Sleepwalking” and “Back To Middle” hint at what the Strokes might have become had they been as concerned with the actual CBGBs sound – bands like Suicide and Television – as they were with their clothes and scoring with chicks that looked like Debbie Harry; there are even nods to blue-collar American icons like Springsteen and Tom Petty in the record’s beefed-up, jock-friendly riffage that sit somewhat at odds with Cox’s typically confessional lyrics (“For a year, I was queer/ I had conquered all my fears/ Not alone anymore/ But I found it such a bore”). Quite why Deerhunter have chosen to go “back to basics” now is unclear; perhaps frustration at not yet being crowned the undisputed kings of indie rock despite pretty much saturating the market – counting Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza albums, they have released at least one album every year since 2007 – has led Cox to mirror the career arc of his friend and mentor Michael Stipe of REM, whose stadium-filling megastardom phase coincided not with their most critically-acclaimed works, but instead with their own dumbed-down bubblegum rock record (Monster), or maybe – and more likely – he was just bored and wanted to create something there and then. But whatever the reason, we can be glad they made that decision: in going “back to basics”, Deerhunter sound more edgy than ever, and Monomania is their most exciting, most vital transmission to date. Listen to the title track below, and hear the whole thing over at NPR.
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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

One response to “Deerhunter : Monomania

  1. Pingback: #NewMusicTuesday – May 7th | Music Streetlight

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