Note: Also serves as review for Deerhunter's Microcastle. Go to rate that album by clicking here.
global warming threatens the chilly habitats of the family Cervidae, we
can thank Deerhunter and Deerhoof for calling attention to the noble
antlered animal. Last year, the bands’ Cryptograms and Friend Opportunity
offered equal parts ambition and experimentation. This year both
follow-up their breakthroughs, so deer around the world can sleep a
little easier, knowing their namesakes are keeping the kingdom in the
Bradford Cox, Deerhunter’s lead singer, has traded dresses, rants
and provocations for a steady, serious normality. This is neither a
sellout nor a copout. These days, the sight of the unconventionally
handsome Cox as a conventional rock frontman is exhilarating, affirming
stuff. And though Microcastle is hardly straightforward, it’s an
aggressive step toward the mainstream that sacrifices none of
Deerhunter’s woozy adventurousness.
The album still finds Cox uncertain and a bit paranoid (on
“Agoraphobia,” he blurs the distinctions between “cover me,” “comfort
me” and “come for me”), but the shifts from languid ambience to
hard-edged rock are much less stark than on the band’s previous album.
Indeed, if Cryptograms asked the listener to swim around in the
murky depths before shaking a fist in the air, Microcastle is instantly
ingratiating. The short intro is a burst of almost kitschy instrumental
lushness, while “Never Stops” is a pulsing, revelatory masterpiece, its
shimmering guitars meshing beautifully with Cox’s hypnotic voice. The
rest of the album balances the meditative and the direct, but it’s the
uptempo songs that leave the strongest impression. For the first time,
Deerhunter is writing genuine anthems.
Meanwhile, only in Deerhoofland could the new Offend Maggie be
construed as a departure from experimentation. Though the sludgy
abrasiveness of 1970s classic rock dominates, the influences,
instruments and electronic sounds fly by at a dizzying pace.
It might seem patronizing to assert that Maggie’s best lyric is “La
la la la life life,” but these words, which appear on the bouncy,
spooky, Buzzcocks-inflected “Chandelier Searchlight,” cut to the heart
of the album’s appeal: a wonderful tension between the band’s light
touch, occasionally serious subject matter and always serious musical
reach. Indeed, both Deerhoof and Deerhunter have managed to follow two
of 2007’s most challenging releases with albums that refuse to
compromise fun for integrity—or vice-versa.