It’s refreshing to listen to a band riding on a wave of no hype. No Myspace campaigns, no sycophantic hipsters attempting to crystal ball the next Vampire Weekend. Bradford Cox could probably walk into a bar anywhere and not get a second glance, and even then only for his rakish frame and elongated gait. Last years Cryptograms may have had the birds singing, but with Microcastle, Deerhunter have arrived.
This is not to say that in the past, Deerhunter haven’t been championed by the press, dodged the spotlight or avoided controversy. On-stage bust-ups, illness and mental health meltdowns forced the band into sudden hiatus during late-2007 but this didn’t stop Cox (vocalist/songwriter) from releasing and touring a solo album earlier this year under the moniker Atlas Sound, only to soon after reconvene with the rest of Deerhunter to record their third album.
Cox has been hesitant to call Microcastle their ‘pop album’, but such tags are always dependent on where you stand. If lining up past albums Turn It Up, Faggot (2004) and Cryptograms (2007), you would realise that the band haven’t been outwardly esoteric and ambient with their music. Pop music it isn’t, not in the conventional sense, but the issue with Microcastle is that it’s almost entirely melodic in structure and song-based. With the exception of the woozy space symphony of opener “Cover Me (slowly)” all tracks feature vocals by either Cox or guitarist Lockett Pundt.
The soothing jangle “Agoraphobia” with “cover me/comfort me” is deceptive in its prison imagery. “Never Stops” builds around a simple but effective bassline that propels the song, shedding the drone and sound collages of Cryptograms into deliberate, focussed thrills. “Little Kids” ebbs and flows with a blissful My Bloody Valentine sheen in a tale of children, stalking and fire. Likewise with the soft strum into superfuzz switch of the title track, shoegaze might have been a short-lived fad, but the long-ranging effects are still being felt and improved upon.
The trio of songs “Green Jacket”, “Calvary Scars” “Activa”, appear as an ambient mini-suite, built around acoustic guitar and piano, Cox’s voice appearing ghostly and distant as he gives voice to his fears – the folk lullaby replete with crucifixion imagery of “Cavalry Scars” (Calvary being the place where Jesus was crucified) and the feel of time wasting away on “Activa”. The twin gems on this record are “Never Stops” and “Nothing Ever Happened”, the latter with its driving beat is reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie feel, if only Death Cab could extend their self-pity into something so impressive. The instrumental jam where the bass and guitar lock into a wig-out groove is the best ending to a song I’ve heard in a long time.
The second half of the album is equally as impressive with the driving “Nothing ever happened” revisit’s the theme of “Activa” with its chorus “nothing ever happened to me/life just passing, flash right through me”. “Saved by old times” is more shoegaze with a sound collage in the middle featuring fellow Atlantan and friend, Cole Alexander of Black Lips. Closer “Twilight At Carbon Lake” is a last dance doo-wop with a breakdown in the middle akin to someone walking up to the band and saying ‘do what you’re doing, but LOUDER’ that builds the song into a shattering crescendo.
Microcastle is more than just an album, it’s a movement in miniature. If modern indie rock has a leader right now, it should be Bradford Cox. In an age where musicians expect to be paid for their creativity, Cox is content to give it away, such is the extent of his restless muse. There are bands around who promise much from their influences who barely go further than pale imitation, but its people like Cox that will be recognised as the geniuses that teach the pack and light the path. Cox now holds the torch and Microcastle is the way forward.