Sentimental is the new angsty, it’s the new irreverence, it’s the dominant motif in indie rock these days. And one of the kings of the independent music scene, Bradford Cox, gives this emotion a shot of life here on Deerhunter’s fourth album, Halcyon Digest. Deerhunter was once a noisy, isolated, and disturbing group to listen to. Crypotgrams and even the two-part masterpiece Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. were filled with White Light White Heat-style noise and haunting visuals. But Halcyon Digest is more nostalgic and dreamier than anything in Cox’s past. This album almost sounds like a follow up to Cox’s Logos, recorded under the Atlas Sound moniker last year. However this is the most accessible Deerhunter or Atlas Sound album to date.
The album begins with the stuttered, psychadelic clapping of “Earthquake” that takes you on a floating ride through the unfiltered mind. Past Deerhunter albums, and Atlas Sound’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel tended to ride the distorted ambience wave for extended amounts of time, but here Deerhunter pop back into consciousness with “Don’t Cry” and the fantastic “Revival”. This trait continues throughout the album and it makes you appreciate the ecclectic talents of this band. One minute its shoegaze, the next bubbly pop, Thom Yorke-esque electronic, and there are even hints at stripped down classic rock. But each time you find yourself getting into a groove, Deerhunter pumps up the energy. Halcyon Digest is the sound of a band that isn’t afraid to experiment and they manage to do that here without disrupting the cohesiveness of the album.
Most Atlas Sound and Deerhunter albums have dealt with the struggles and alienation of frontman Bradford Cox. This album finds Cox and his band coming to terms with who they are and where they stand. The songwriting here deals more and more with relationships and looking back on moments. “Memory Boy” oddly calls to mind The Smiths or Springsteen with its nostalgic imagery, and “Coronado” uses very Bruce-ish horns that caught me off guard at first. “Desire Lines” is another change in sound. It could be a terrific song, but Lockett Pundt’s voice is fairly generic and it lacks the sexiness of Cox’s. And that distinctive, sensual voice shines the brightest on “Helicopter” where Cox’s falsetto creates the perfect complement to dripping strings and hypnotic echoing.
After a few listens it’s my favorite Deerhunter album, but only time will tell if the more accessible sound will leave the lasting impression that some of the band’s earlier, more difficult work did.