Deerhunter describe themselves as an "ambient punk" band, but I really have no idea what that means.
But if their second album "Cryptograms" is any indicator, it involves solid, melodious rock'n'roll wrapped in a thick, murky blanket of shoegazer ambience, distant psychpop and droning punk. It's a stripped-down, misty album that bends your mind -- and your rock'n'roll likings.
First, an introduction of electronic loops and droning fog. Then we get the title track -- a ringing rocker that sounds very Joy-Divisionish, but smothered in chaotic side noise and faint distortion. "My greatest fear, I fantasized/The days were long, the weeks flew by/Before I knew I was awake/My days were through, it was too late..."
Things quiet down a bit for "White Ink," a haunting little shoegazer song full of rippling riffs and murky ambient sound. After the titular song, it's a relief to hear something so quiet. But then it stomps back into rock turf with the dark, thudding basslines and robot vocals of "Lake Somerset."
The rest of the album basically seesaws between those two sounds -- Deerhunter dabbles in minimalist psychedelica with an Indian flair, slow-burning rockers, ghostly ambient melodies, and some murky punk numbers. Things get a wee bit poppy near the end with "Hazel Street," but the album ends off with a shimmering shoegazer song, and the lean, sputtery "Heatherwood.
Deerhunter has had a rough past, including rather tepid dancepunk debut, and the death of their original bassist in 2004. So somehow it's not surprising that their second album not only sounds very different, but also full of regret, unease and uncertain endings ("When one life is over a new one begins").
The most powerful sound in here is Lockett Pundt's reverb riffs -- it rings and swirls all around the more grounded riffs and blazing basslines, drums and subtle synth. It's all foggy, dense ambience, and it's brilliant -- at times it sounds like you're hearing them from far away, with the volume turned up. At others, they sound like they were filtered through a radio.
But Bradford Cox's voice gets a bit lost in the blurry melodies; at times, he's barely more than a murmur. But if you can make out the lyrics, they are pretty good -- mournful, reflective, and pretty stripped down ("I arranged to leave on that day/There were complications I've chosen to stay/I saw the curtains and it was the end/When one life is over a new one begins..."
If Joy Division were swallowed by My Bloody Valentine, the results might be something like the blurry "Cryptograms." May Deerhunter make many, many more albums like this.
Maybe it was after seeing the Anton Corjbin's Ian Curtis biopic Control that I began to fall in love with Deerhunter. I guess it was that longing for more of the vibrancy Joy Division created on their only two studio albums. Certainly, on Cryptograms, the same formula is in place, a fury of drum beats, a slightly strange frontman churning out lyrics like `My greatest fear, I fantasized: / The days were long, the weeks flew by / Before I knew I was awake / My days were through, it was too late' on the title track and dark, mechanical guitar rhythms. But beyond these obvious similarities, Deerhunter, allow themselves a greater sense of freedom from the tight structures of the Post-Punk generation, drifting casually into almost ambient MBV-inspired feedback tracks like White Ink and Providence sometimes for the better and at other times for the worst. Despite their avant-garde/experimental longing, it is when the band play within solid pop-based structures, like the highlight of the album, Strange Lights, that they achieve the best results.
Highlights: Cryptograms, Strange Lights, Hazel St.
I was disappointed by Cryptograms, perhaps because I expected big things after buying Microcastles/Wierd Era.
The pace of this album is so slow and incoherent, in-between moments of psyched-out pop-bliss are long periods of ambient instrumentals (involving barely audible mutterings, sounds similar to an orchestra warming up, and a distinct lack of structure). This is fine if you like birdsong and endless guitar squalor, but it leads me to question why so many people seem to think Bradford Cox is such an awesome songwriter, as its definitely not my cup of tea. Cryptograms, Strange Lights and Heatherwood represent the dream pop I was hoping for after hearing Weird Era, and sadly there's just not enough moments like this..
Cryptograms is so introspective, dislocated and over-ambient that I don't think I'll ever find the right frame of mind to truly enjoy this album from start to finish.