[18 October 2009]
Take a quick gander at Deerhunter’s discography and you’ll notice a clear stylistic trajectory. From the confrontational noise of “Turn It Up Faggot” to the ambient preoccupations of Cryptograms to the straight-up indie-pop of Microcastle/Weird Era Cont., it’s plain to see that as the band has evolved over time, its songwriting has increasingly tended toward the more accessible end of the spectrum. Unsurprisingly, it appears that Bradford Cox’s other songwriting vehicle, Atlas Sound, is following a similar arc. On Logos, his second album under the Atlas Sound moniker, Cox provides us with 11 songs that are far less insular, though no less dreamy, than those he has penned in the past. While his fractured compositions still evoke the myth of the bedroom pop auteur, the songs on Logos sound considerably more refined than the lo-fi sketches being churned out by many of his peers. This, as it turns out, is a very good thing.
To wit: “Walkabout”, the track that had the blogosphere buzzing with anticipation for the better part of the summer. Built around a squelchy organ sample lifted from the Dovers “What Am I Going to Do”, the song simultaneously recalls both the acid-tinged psychedelia of Black Moth Super Rainbow and the technicolor pop of Brian Wilson. Of course, it’s impossible to mention “Walkabout” without acknowledging its co-creator, Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear. In many ways, “Walkabout” bears Lennox’s fingerprints more than it does Cox’s, with Lennox’s wistful vocal harmonies echoing throughout the track’s four-minute runtime. It’s easy to see why Cox chose to leak “Walkabout” well in advance of the release of Logos; bright, bubbly and infinitely catchy, the song perfectly captures the mood of a fleeting summer afternoon and stands as one of the year’s best singles.
“Walkabout” is obviously a standout, though it’s also an outlier when approached within the context of Logos. While some may feel as if they’ve been misled, the good news is that the rest of the album is no less rewarding, if not quite as instantly gratifying. Take, for example, the opening suite that leads up to “Walkabout”. Pitting disjointed acoustic guitar strums and distant, reverb-soaked vocals against a backdrop of aqueous noise, “The Light That Failed” succeeds at drawing the listener in while still keeping her at arm’s length. “An Orchid”, meanwhile, presents the listener with a dreamy ballad that feels like an indistinct outline for a Deerhunter song. Cox’s vocals and the song’s guitar hook are buried just deep enough in the mix to force the listener to dig a little. When “Walkabout” finally hits, it feels like a reward well earned.
Luckily, “Walkabout” isn’t the only nugget of pure pop bliss to be found on Logos. “Shelia”, a disarmingly straightforward slice of jangly college-rock, proves hard to shake, with its Pixies-esque melody and sun-bleached three-part harmonies. Lyrically, the song serves as a world-weary rejoinder to the sweetly nostalgic refrain of “Walkabout” (“What did you want to be / When you grew up”), with Cox explaining, “No one wants / To die alone”, before promising the song’s titular subject, “We’ll die alone / Together.” It sure goes down easy, though.
Cox has publicly acknowledged that Stereolab were his favorite band in high school, so it should come as no surprise that given the opportunity to collaborate with Lætitia Sadier, he puts his best foot forward. On “Quick Canal”, he lovingly builds up and tears down a cathedral of sound for Sadier to inhabit, layering a deep bass groove, tambourine hits and a wall of gently panning organs atop a steady, shuffling beat. Midway through, the song falls apart, briefly taking a detour into glitchy noise before giving way to a squall of fuzzed-out guitars. Try as Cox might to obfuscate the vocals, however, Sadier’s voice proves indefatigable. To her credit, she sounds right at home here, bouncing her voice off of the song’s jagged edges to produce a track that’s equal parts haunting and triumphant.
With regard to electronic composition, on Logos Cox sounds more confident than ever before. Samples and electronic instrumentation form the underpinnings of many of the album’s songs, though not to conspicuous effect. Penultimate track “Washington School” illustrates this point better than perhaps any other on the album. Opening with a loop built from fragments of a minor key piano line, the song soon piles on a pounding, bass-heavy beat, chimes and a playful synth line, blossoming into a full-on folktronica number that recalls Four Tet circa Rounds. Somewhere in the distance, Cox’s disembodied voice rings out: “Shine a light / On me.”
If Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel was the product of Cox’s willful isolation, then Logos is the sound of the auteur stepping outside of his bedroom to engage the world outside. Though it cedes little of the hazy delivery that made Let the Blind… so compelling, Logos brims with a wide-eyed energy all its own, conveying a palpable sense of optimism that’s all too rare in Cox’s oeuvre. This isn’t too surprising when one considers the circumstances; the path that led Cox to the album’s creation—globetrotting tours with his idols, collaborations with some of the most distinctive voices in indie rock—is the stuff of dreams for hermetic music nerds. Perhaps that’s why Logos sounds as vibrant as it does: it’s the result of Bradford Cox living out his dreams rather than just dreaming them.