[1 April 2009]
Solo recordings and side projects can be awfully revealing where the inner workings and personal relationships of a band are concerned. Think of the tension that played out in the solo releases by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the late 1980s/early 1990s: Jagger made his case as the mutable pop troubadour with all eyes on the dollar signs, while Richards staunchly defended the Stones’ untainted rock and roll roots. Or they can simply be a venue for musicians to air ideas that don’t exactly fit the collective agendas of their bands, like Thurston Moore’s work outside of Sonic Youth or Thom Yorke’s extracurricular indulgences in electronic music.
While Deerhunter is no Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, or Radiohead at this point in its career, the band has spawned a number of outside projects in a short amount of time. Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound holds the highest profile, constantly releasing “virtual” singles and EPs over and above 2008’s official (and highly acclaimed) release Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel. But what’s surprising about Cox’s solo work is how similar it is to Deerhunter’s, which makes his situation look more like that of someone who simply has too many ideas to contain in the context of a working band—and, perhaps more importantly, the unchecked outlet of an official blog with which to disseminate them.
As the reserved yin to Cox’s extroverted yang, Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt seems the least likely candidate to indulge in solo work, but his Lotus Plaza project shows that there’s a lot more going on below the surface of Pundt’s shoe-gazing stage persona. Pundt plays 99.9% of the instruments on The Floodlight Collective, with the same attention to detail and dedication to making the most of limitation found in all great solo projects. But again, where Lotus Plaza surprises (or not?) is in how similar it sounds to Pundt’s working band.
Although Pundt demonstrates an interest in styles beyond the common denominator of ethereal pop, as on the doo-wop-inflected “Quicksand”, the album’s strongest moments are those that exploit the similarities. Like Deerhunter’s pre-Microcastle work, the vocals are so heavily processed and buried in the mix that the lyrics become unintelligible. But when they do shine through, the words share Cox’s penchant for evoking childhood places and hazy memories, due in no small part to the dreamlike music that engulfs them. There are also a handful of instrumental pieces like “These Years” that recall the ambient interludes on Deerhunter’s Cryptograms. Bradford Cox even contributes drums to “Different Mirrors”—the only part on the entire album not played by its progenitor—unsurprisingly marking the closest Lotus Plaza comes to interchangeability with Pundt’s other band.
Another factor at play is that occasionally Pundt’s ideas run out of steam. Despite the endless supply of creative guitar figures he seems to have at his disposal, he loops them on “Sunday Night” to the point where there just isn’t enough happening to justify the song’s nearly five-minute length. “Antoine”, another culprit, drifts along for nearly five minutes before introducing an electronic beat that conflicts with the mood Pundt established at such great lengths. It represents the problems faced by the album’s ambient-leaning pieces as a whole—they work far less successfully here than in Deerhunter’s work, standing out on their own instead of becoming woven into the album’s overall fabric.
To his credit, Pundt saves the best for last with “A Threaded Needle”, where the shades of Eno influence suggest it might be the same needle taken from the camel’s eye. Thus, it rings clear by the album’s conclusion that the exquisite outweighs the monotonous, even if there’s plenty of the latter in evidence. The most important thing gleaned from The Floodlight Collective, however, is how integral Lockett Pundt is to his other band’s sound. Bradford Cox might get all of the attention, but Deerhunter most certainly is not a one-man show—and if Pundt can withstand the comparative criticism, he’ll make great strides toward stepping out of that shadow.