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The Art of Destruction

Sep 01, 2008 Photography by Patrick Heagney Deerhunter
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“I wish we were the fucking Strokes,” says Bradford Cox defiantly, offering a preemptive strike against those who might take offense at the more approachable tones of Deerhunter’s third full-length release, Microcastle. “People were like, ‘Hey, it sounds like the fucking Strokes,’ and I go, ‘No shit. I like The Strokes. I think they fucking rule,’” he continues, potentially adding another chapter to the reams of widely dissected statements that seem designed partly for self-revelation and partly for shock value. “I like Steve Reich and Nelly. I like it all. I think most musicians that I respect or admire are the same way.”

Though he has often had to defend himself for outlandish public behavior, whether engaging in uncomfortably confrontational live shows or cataloging his bowel movements on his blog, Cox is now in a far different position than he was when Deer-hunter released Cryptograms, their breakthrough 2007 release. That sophomore album, a deeply hypnotic and emotionally raw exploration of death and physical pain, was wrapped in layers of guitar delay and reverb. Partly inspired by Cox’s struggles with Marfan Syndrome (the genetic disorder that typically causes heart valve defects and results in distinctly long, spindly limbs), the death of a close friend, and the feelings of isolation understood only by those who have spent their lives on the margins of society, that album was inconsolably dark. But Microcastle is not Cryptograms. Microcastle has no heavily layered ambient instrumentals. The arrangements are more concise, the rhythms are more straightforward, and it has little noise and far more immediacy. And this time around the Athens, Georgia quartet does sound more like The Strokes (or at least The Velvet Underground) than My Bloody Valentine. But if Cox said too much before, he has resolved to say much less this time around.

“I think it’s cool to be able to just not explain things this time,” he replies when asked to discuss the sentiment behind certain songs. “Half the time I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I’m just making shit up. It’s just stream of consciousness stuff, and that’s where [the album title] came from. But after the stream of consciousness aspect of it, usually there’s a rationalization, like I’ll start trying to come up with an explanation of titles. I’ve had songs called ‘Mircocastle.’ I want to make a movie called Microcastle. I wanted it to be the name of a fanzine that was a collage/Xerox art thing. That’s the way I do things.

“I have notebooks and tapes and stuff filled with old ideas, and I recycle them at this point, because of nostalgia, like, ‘Oh man, back in 2002, that was really when it was happening.’ For example, I’ll suddenly have this deep longing to return to age 19 or age 23, so I’ll go back and listen to these tapes. So that’s where a lot of titles and things come from.”

While Cox is content to allow what appears to be aching pleas for escape and refuge to be left open to the listener’s interpretation, it’s apparent that the album’s titular concept is far riper for discussion. And just like a number of the songs that compose the album, the title is pulled from his past, an echo of an era when Cox’s entire world was contained within his head.

“The first occurrence of this ‘microcastle’ word is years ago when my friend’s dog died, and the family was very attached to it and buried it in the backyard, and they had this masonry, improvised, brick shrine to the dog,” he says. “It just looked like a little microcastle to me. And also when I was a kid, I’d build these microcastles out of blocks and Legos and things, and I was really into it. The thing that I always remember is that I’d destroy them. That was a big thing, and my parents would encourage it. I would build these elaborate things that would take up the entire first floor of our house, these giant maze-like constructions of blocks and Legos and little pieces of other toys and stuff, and then I’d go on this rampage and destroy it all after it was completed.”

Some might accuse Cox of doing the same thing in his professional life, as crowds have been taken aback by his onstage breakdowns and bizarre postings on the Deerhunter blog. First there was the night he was accused of receiving oral sex during a live show (which was never proven), then another where he stayed on stage long after his bandmates had left and bared his soul about the nervous breakdown he was experiencing. There were unfounded accusations of child pornography on his “Five Imaginary Boyfriends” blog post. He inadvertently started fights in interviews and was forced to issue self-effacing apologies. Guitarist Colin Mee even mentioned the circus-like atmosphere of the attention swirling around Deerhunter as one of the deciding factors in his decision to leave the band in the fall of 2007. Was Cox cracking up from the hard-earned attention? Is Microcastle designed as a litmus test for fickle hipsters who only liked the band when they were the newest and most obscure flavor of the month?

“I just do whatever the fuck I feel like doing,” he says directly. “Since when has that not been pretty crucial to punk rock? It’s not calculated at all. A lot of times I embarrass myself, like, ‘Oh, God. Way to go, dipshit.’ But I never feel sorry for myself, like [saying] I was victimized by Pitchfork or horrible journalists. The only time I’ve ever gotten in trouble is when I open my mouth too wide and bite off more than I can chew. I’m guilty of being uncalculated, which is also what the entire punk rock, surrealist, garage religion that I subscribe to is based on. If I calculated everything, then I might as well be in fucking Coldplay or something. It’s easy to be good-looking and sellable. I don’t feel like I have as much at stake, because I’m not that easily sellable. A lot of people look at me and they’re just like, ‘Whoa. OK. Nevermind.’”

While he’s right about being dismissed by those who aren’t comfortable watching a strikingly gaunt man stalk a stage wearing a dress, he’s wrong that Deerhunter has nothing at stake. With the prerelease hype that Microcastle has had and a recent tour with Nine Inch Nails confirming their commercial potential, Cox’s world of private pain and public drama could be opened to an audience far beyond anything he could have imagined back when he was building microcastles in his living room. Now, every outlandish statement and public event not only gets the band a new batch of headlines but solidifies a public image that could allow listeners to dismiss the band without even giving Microcastle a cursory listen. If anything, the stakes have never been higher.

“A lot of people would walk in and see me on stage and would walk right the fuck back out and get a beer and not even have an opinion of the music,” he continues with a laugh. “If we do anything pop or accessible, that’s because that’s the mood we’re into at the time. The next album could be harsh noise if that’s what I’m into.”


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March 10th 2010

I think it’s cool to be able to just not explain things this time, he replies when asked to discuss the sentiment behind certain songs.

January 10th 2011

While Cryptograms presents its own obstacles, it’s easily enjoyed as a whole. Memorable melodies and an awkward, charismatic narrator are often peeking from behind the dissonance-laden mists that self-consciously choke them. Love Deerhunter. “Rolex Submariner

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