Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox is an outcast. Born with the physically disfiguring genetic disorder Marfan’s syndrome, his parents divorced at an early age, leaving him to drop out of high school and live in an empty surburban household with very few friends. This isolation drove Cox’s interest in melodies that invoked feelings of nostalgia, heartbreak, and melancholy. He became influenced by the monotonous, hypnotic vibes of Stereolab’s 1993 LP Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, a form of psychedelic escapism that is readily apparent in Deerhunter’s acclaimed 2007 ambient/dream pop release Cryptograms.
The transition from Cryptograms to mainstream breakthrough Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. marked a change in identity for Deerhunter that roughly persists to this day. Deerhunter eschewed the droney ambience of the first half of Cryptograms and embraced the psych pop sensibilities in the three track run of “Spring Hall Convert/Strange Lights/Hazel St.” on the latter half of the album. The result is a record that can be described as a modern day OK Computer, perhaps not in a musical sense, but in that it is a collection of pop songs that poignantly expresses feelings of alienation and anxiety in contemporary society.
Microcastle opens with the drowning wall of guitar sounds and unintelligible vocals of “Cover Me (Slowly)” that perfectly transition into “Agoraphobia,” where guitarist Lockett Pundt’s mesmerizing wordplay (“Cover me/ Comfort me/ Come for me”) flow hand-in-hand with a reverberated guitar riff. The middle tracks of the album, with the exception of a pounding, vocal-less chorus on the titular “Microcastle,” are its dynamic nadir, comprised of sparse compositions and ghostly stream-of-consciousness vocals. The surrealism of these tracks are brought to an end with the fist-pumping yet nihilistic “Nothing Ever Happened,” an extended jam of bright, overdriven guitars that ends with a shrieking tapping solo. The album’s finale returns to its roots with psych pop compositions ” Neither of Us, Uncertainly” and “Twilight at Carbon Lake,” which invoke feelings of drifting off into the nether.
Weird Era Cont. is the companion album to Microcastle, meant as a reward for patient fans after Microcastle was leaked well in advance of its release date. Rather than a collection of B-sides, Weird Era Cont. is an excellent release in its own right. The record features tracks that are singularly composed by individual band members, which perhaps accounts for its diverse influences of noise pop, dance-punk, drone, ambient, and shoegaze. “Vox Humana” and “Vox Celeste” are aptly named, the former being an eerily haunting spoken word monologue and the latter a soaring example of neo-shoegaze done right. Closing track “Calvary Scars II/ Aux Out” features a reupholstered encore of “Calvary Scars” followed by an extended, soporific drone.
Bradford Cox is an iconoclastic media personality who dismisses any higher notions of pop and rock music, rejecting the idea of meaning or solidarity in the content of his songs. Nevertheless, the listeners can derive their own themes and interpretations – perhaps stumbled upon whilst staring out of a window during a pensive bus ride, or walking down an empty street at midnight, lost in thought.
Deerhunter – Agoraphobia
Deerhunter – Nothing Ever Happened