Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Halcyon Digest


Oct 08, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Listening to Deerhunter’s second and third albums (Cryptograms and Microcastles) was kind of like watching Neo make that first jump in The Matrix: there was just such a “holy shit”-ness to it all. Here was a band with one record under its belt growing up under our very ears. The distance they traveled over the course of tracks—much less whole albums—was astonishing. On their fourth record (though frontman Bradford Cox seems to record roughly as much as Tupac in his heyday), Deerhunter has settled into a comfortable, yet still thrilling, space.

This place is difficult to describe with labels (psych pop?), but it shares a lot of similarities with dreams, both in its ephemeral and temperamental nature. Deerhunter’s music can flip a switch from pleasant reverie to nightmare in a heartbeat, though often both occupy the same place at the same time in some physics-bending spell. Cox is a master at pacing, whereas his emotional state feels so tenuous, the music has genuine threat to it. His lyrics don’t often make a ton of sense, instead relying on the tried-and-true, Thom-Yorke-impressionistic method of repetition for feeling rather than meaning. “Memory Boy” has a British Invasion swing and stomp to it, with Cox repeating “It’s not a house anymore” in his inimitable, flexible voice.

“Memory Boy” comes halfway into the record, and after a sleepy start (“Earthquake” feels especially thin), this is where Halcyon Digest begins to excel. The last four songs (“Helicopter,” “Fountain Stairs,” “Coronado,” and “He Would Have Laughed”) are four of the best songs the band has made.

The production, by Ben H. Allen and the band, varies from sturdy to truly amazing, such as on the breathtaking “Helicopter,” in which there’s a certain air of formality to the proceedings, a careful structure, almost hip-hop-esque in the strings and beats. The song finds its origins in the story of a Russian male prostitute, and the source material provides Cox with some of his most straightforward lyrics to date, “No one cares for me/I keep no company…. And now they are through with me.”

The songs on Halcyon Digest all feel familiar in a way, like warped versions of songs that played on the radio in some not-too-distant past; sort of how pop songs are portrayed in post-apocalyptic movies: as something to be cherished, because they’re all too rare. Deerhunter is a band powerful enough to elicit those feelings without the need for an atomic disaster.(

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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