Music

Deerhunter: Cryptograms

Deerhunter has skills that transcend the cheap shock value of its previous album, its members proving themselves equally adept at ambient, looped strums as they are at pleasing-if-barely-in-tune jangle pop.


Deerhunter

Cryptograms

Label: Kranky
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2007-01-29
Amazon
iTunes

Sometimes, successful art is borne of tragedy and adversity. Sometimes, it is a matter of happenstance. Sometimes the greatest pieces of art are created quickly and spontaneously, and sometimes, they require years of reflection and meditation.

Deerhunter's latest album Cryptograms is an odd combination of all of the above -- which may explain why, despite its moments of brilliance, it never quite works as an album. What Cryptograms does do, however, is legitimize Deerhunter to a critical populace that probably never would have embraced a band that used sexual orientation-based slurs in its album titles or penis collages serving as its artwork. As it turns out, Deerhunter has skills that transcend the cheap shock value of such tactics, its members proving themselves equally adept at ambient, looped strums as they are at pleasing-if-barely-in-tune jangle pop.

The story behind Cryptograms is one that's bound to be repeated and driven into the ground at least until such time as Deerhunter releases its next album. Here's the summary: Cryptograms' first half is the second take of a one-day recording session that the band tried to accomplish shortly after its original bass player tragically died, finding that a little time to heal the wounds resulted in a much better one day stint later on, a session that turned into the first seven tracks on Cryptograms. The latter half of the album is a set of songs that resulted from far less tragic circumstances, but still laid to tape in another single-day whirlwind. That's the story. Kind of makes you want to root for them, doesn't it?

Perhaps it's a result of that rooting interest, but it's hard to shake the feeling that the first half of Cryptograms is its most exhilarating. Only two of those first seven tracks are "songs" in the way one normally thinks of "songs", things with guitars and drums and words and verses and discernable rhythms, and even those songs sound as though they're ready to fall apart at the seams at any time, never totally in sync, always on the verge of imploding in a maelstrom of sound and fury, though never actually falling into the trap of doing just that. The title track centers on lead vocalist Bradford Cox detailing his greatest fears and regrets, ultimately getting stuck on the phrase "There was no sound", the vocals approximating a record in a locked groove even as the instruments around them get louder and more chaotic with every repetition. "Lake Somerset" is just as noteworthy, conveying a dark dread as aptly as "Cryptograms" did confusion and fear, contrasting creepy quiet with explosive noise and magnifying both moods in the process. Surrounding those particular statements with the ambient (if a bit long-winded) workouts of songs like "White Ink" and the nearly eight-minute "Octet" only magnifies their impact, providing formless context to the Elmer's glue 'n duct tape structures of the proper songs.

It's the lack of such experiments that likely dooms the latter half, as we are forced to fixate on examples of Deerhunter's songcraft, which is actually somewhat average -- there's a good energy to songs like "Strange Lights" and "Hazel St.", but there are also multitracked vocals that aren't quite in tune with each other. There are a few catchy melodies to be found, but there's also too much use of delay, masking whatever deficiencies in musicianship Deerhunter might choose to hide. For four songs and one woefully short instrumental, Deerhunter sound like Average Indie Band, a tragically dismissive designation for a band that flashes the sort of potential that the first half of the album holds.

It would appear, then, that in Deerhunter's case, spontaneity triumphs over calculation, that the inspiration of tragedy triumphs over the inspiration of simply wanting to be a good band. At least, that's the conclusion we are to draw from Cryptograms, an album as ultimately disappointing as it is initially thrilling -- still, as an indicator of potential, Cryptograms holds a lot of hope for the future, a future in which the fine young men of Deerhunter would do well to listen to their more experimental inclinations.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image