[18 February 2008]
Bundled in both live and programmed textures, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox at his most accomplished, processing organ, guitar, and his own vocals for a dizzying 50 minutes. Cox’s bedroom-recorded solo debut oozes warm (but in spots quite chilling) psychedelia, as no corner is left without Fender Rhodes electric piano muddied by outboard effects boxes. When sections of the sprawling, roomy pieces on Let the Blind Lead aren’t merely draped in background nymph calls, Cox offers a heavily reverberating vocal—a repeated phrase or two per composition that laps against seldom obtrusive percussion. The mantras sometimes reek of weed-addled disaffection, such as those overtop of “Recent Bedroom”‘s acid rock guitar licks: “I walked outside/I could not cry/I don’t know/I don’t know why…” but for the most part, his verses bear repeating in that they’re an integral component of a still, haunting record.
Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel launches with a recording of what’s become an unmistakably cheap construct of American horror films: the “precious”, probably dewy-eyed child recounting a ghost story. You know the scene: people stand around, jaws agape, while an unusually articulate toddler discusses a recent afternoon spent gardening with a corpse or some such thing in inexplicable detail, etc. “A Ghost Story” introduces Cox’s record, and as it may connect aesthetically with the ornamental touches that follow (elongated passages of delayed verse-ends that swirl in and out of both channels, blurry organ melodies, loads of echo), Cox’s soaring vocal pitch and the actual melodies are far more frightening than any kid prattling on about the afterlife.
“Winter Vacation” proves displacing and eerie with resonating guitar tones that serve as mellotrons, hardly emanating the temperature to which the title refers. The simple mention of “I’ve seen rain…” seems to spread out for at least a minute during “Winter Vacation”‘s dense walls of organ and knocking techno rhythm. Cox’s call nears Lilys frontman Kurt Heasley’s open-ended, unpredictable falsettos or, better yet, those exhibited by Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright on A Saucerful of Secrets. The late ‘60s vibe ambles elsewhere; loose experiments on Let the Blind Lead find Cox pairing strummed acoustics with wobbly, tremolo-heavy organ on “Ready Set Glow”, and “After Class” winds downward with just as much paisley playfulness, packing surging synth noises against a simple laptop beat.
As Atlas Sound, Bradford Cox allows for less straight rock tendencies to filter into the recordings than those that characterize the hyped full-band main project on his plate, Deerhunter. Cryptograms and Let the Blind Lead share more than a moment or two of ambient similarity. Closure for lingering mind-benders “Providence” or “White Ink” from Deerhunter’s most recent outing falls rather rewardingly to the wayside, in the fashion that some of Cox’s room-smothering efforts do on his solo debut. Let the Blind Lead‘s lovesickness and confessions, however, are as tenderly delivered as its hazy atmospherics are, and in their bare authenticity, are far more compelling in repeat indulgences than Deerhunter’s explorations. “On Guard” rattles around wonderfully, with pings and clicks that offer more space than anything on Cryptograms, while Cox barrels toward personal disaster in “River Card”, lamenting that he’s in love with someone whose troublesome nature runs as deep as his sterling appeal. The idea of Atlas Sound suffers no such deceptive drawback.