Saturday, December 7, 2013

Deerhunter - Monomania

I remember reading-and I’m too lazy to find the actual quote and hyperlink it for you fuckers-where Brandon Cox referred to Deerhunter’s first record as an angry mess, the product of young men fueled with punk rock angst and the novelty of learning their instruments while the tape was rolling.

Make no mistake, this isn’t necessarily an attack of Turn It Up, Faggot, but it’s a quote that I took to mean: “Here’s the place where we started, and here’s the place we’ve ended up after a lot of hard work and challenging ideas.” Because while the Deerhunter of the debut record is relevant in the entire menagerie of the band’s output, it’s also a good place to chart how good they became in their decade of existence.

Monomania is the band’s 6th album, and is a blatant left turn compared to the releases before it, where each one seemed to making clear headway towards identifying Deerhunter as one of America’s most notable acts. By “left turn” I could also suggest that it’s a “U turn” as it returns to the scuzzy formula of their debut in an attempt to appear be spontaneous, noisy, and ambivalent to the pressures of high expectations.

The album is littered with Cox’s distorted vocals and abrasive input levels, where instruments are faded up to the point of distortion, serving little else aside from trying to make Monomania as inaccessible as possible.

And while I am not dissuaded by such techniques - Cox has used them at lot of times, mainly delegated to e.p.s and leftover discs, and I liked it. It’s when these strategies are used for your first full-length record in three years and it happens to be coming off the heels of what had been a career highlight that I begin to have a problem with it. The notion that Cox's in-the-red document is somehow representative of the rock pioneers he's supposedly channeling (Ricky Nelson, Bo Diddly) misses the point of those early artists passion. The subversive mix also does little to convince me of Monomania's ties to the avant-garde, particularly since so much of the record is indebted to the pop leanings Cox hints at, yet is too chickenshit to actually embrace.

In the end, it all spells that the creative forces of Cox and guitarist/vocalist Lockett Pundt have left us with a somewhat lazy effort. Speaking of: Pundt's contribution of "The Missing" marks his third song in as many records that ebbs into another arpeggio break, making hims sound like a one trick pony.

Curiously, "The Missing" comes as Monomania's saving grace, giving the record at least one title that forfeits the project's phony-baloney garage worship with at least three minutes of dreamy reprieve, even though it's the worst Pundt Deerhunter track in years and it comes three tunes into the album.

Monomania's saving grace are Cox's songs, and even though he tries to diminish their fey charms with grit and grime, they ocassionally rise to the surface, begging the listener to consider them in more softer tones. You heard right: Cox could have created his own Ricky Nelson "Lonesome Town" if his ego wasn't in such a rush to be validated by, I dunno, music blogs named after Fall songs.

The fucker is a pussy cat, and if he wants a chance to add meat to his bones, then the best way to do it is in a live setting - and that's exactly what they did when I heard Deerhunter perform a large bag from this album live over last summer.

In the meantime, let's put the studio to good use, fellas, just like those granddaddies did in the 50's when cutting those tracks that Cox seems to have an ever-present boner for. It's not like they intentionally dirtied up the sessions - it's because they could only afford one-take Jakes, making the warts 'n all approach a matter of necessity, not creative glad-handing.

Just watch me: I'll probably be all over this record in a few years, but for right now - and ever since I first spun it last summer - it's a disappointment. And probably the best way to describe that disappointment is to use a line from the title track: “If you can’t send me an angel, send me something else.”

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