Thursday, April 05, 2012

Deerhunter / Atlas Sound / Lotus Plaza

I know I often write about the band Deerhunter in this here blog but for some reason the past years I've been coming back to them over and over. They're a 4-piece band originally from Atlanta, Ga., more or less "led" by a guy named Bradford Cox who play a mix of 60s pop, shoegaze, punk, whatever. They write great pop songs, always well arranged and played. I came to them late (as I usually do with music), around the end of 2008 when I was living in Boston (actually Cambridge). I was there for a fellowship or something that I only dimly remember now.

Either way, the walk from my apartment to campus was nice, especially on the cold snowy mornings. And Deerhunter would frequently pop up on my headphones. At that time I still had a habit of making mixes to sample new music. I started this habit about 10 years ago when I still made mix CDs (CDs!) but at some point, they just became iPod playlists and on Mix 27, there were two songs by Deerhunter, one called "Nothing Ever Happened," originally from the album Microcastle. The studio version is a rocking rush of a song. As Bradford Cox sings, he evokes late 1960s psychedelia in the melody, but by the end of the song, it moves slowly into early 1990s shoegaze: a hypnotic metronomic beat with rushes of glide guitar envelops you. Those two styles pretty much sum up many of their songs: 60s perfect pop and 90s fuzzy guitar. On "Nothing Ever Happened," the two styles clash and race ahead with urgency leaving you almost breathless. I always got to campus faster when that song came on.

Since Microcastle (my top album of 2008), Deerhunter has released another album, Halcyon Digest (my top album of 2010), also filled with an amazing number of pop goodies, like songs made of candy. My favorite song from the recent album was "Desire Lines," written actually by the lead guitarist of the band (and all around shy dude) with the unlikely name Lockett Pundt. Like many good Deerhunter songs, it begins as a perfect pop song, and then moves into being a mood piece of guitar and chimes. Pundt's modus operandi seems to be bliss-through-repetition and that ethic is clearly on display in the last few minutes of "Desire Lines." Here is the song performed live in the studio. Pundt is the guy singing on the right.

Both Pundt and especially Cox have had pretty prolific "solo" careers outside of Deerhunter. Cox is a man driven by some ineffable need to constantly write and record music. At one point, be posted four volumes of demos of songs on his blog entitled "Bedroom Databank." I think a lot of other contemporary songwriters would kill to be possessed of that kind of prolific creativity. The fact that he has a genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome (and also probably the fact that he's gay) would seem to suggest a certain outsider status that informs his songwriting. He seems to have a vast knowledge about the history and mythology of rock'n'roll and you can argue that that kind of thing can make your music too calculated and contrived, but his undeniable musical talent makes up for that. Cox calls his solo act Atlas Sound; as Atlas Sound he's released a bunch of albums, all of them worth hearing. They're a bit more experimental than Deerhunter, less unified, more bedroom-ish electropop. Here are two songs. The first is from Logos (2009) and is a song called "Quick Canal." On lead vocals is Laetitia Sadier, one of the main forces behind the French band Stereolab. The song recalls some of Sadier's best Stereolab work and is (nearly) 9 minutes of electrobliss:

And here is Bradford Cox playing the song "Te Amo" live during a radio broadcast. The song is from the most recent Atlas Sound called Parallax, released last year.

Which brings me back to the aforementioned Lockett Pundt, who has just released a new album under the his solo career moniker Lotus Plaza. The new album is called Spooky Action at a Distance is getting some good reviews. I just got it myself and have only heard it a couple of times, and what I hear I am loving. Here is the song "Strangers" from it, evocative of 1980s jangle pop and shoegaze. Takes me back to 1989 and... um that adolescent state of pining for pretty hipster girls:

And finally, finally, let us return to Deerhunter's "Nothing Ever Happened," the first song by the band I ever heard on those walks to campus in Cambridge in late 2008. Deerhunter is good on record but they kick some major ass on stage. Here is the live version of the song, transformed into a frenetic and mesmerizing epic. You can see the band playing like a well-oiled machine that seems to teeter on the edge of total collapse. As the song rises into hallucinogenic psychedelia in the latter part, Cox begins to sing/talk the lyrics to Patti Smith's classic "Land" from Horses.


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spaceman said...

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