Review Summary: You need to listen to this again.
I first listened to Microcastle
at a very weird transition in my life. I didn’t like it, not initially. Found it boring, the sound of a band deflating with the lack of new ideas, let alone something worthy of saying. That was five months and 19 days ago. Sometime in October, Ryan Flatley came to me and said, “Lewis, you need to listen to this again.”
I have a dream / no longer to be free / I want only to see / four walls made of concrete
is structured like an art house drama, all tension and silent pauses and powerhouse climaxes, though that’s selling Brandon Cox’s vision short. If first impressions are to be believed, Deerhunter’s third album is cold and impersonal, a strikingly familiar formula that the band’s twisted sophomore effort Cryptograms
shredded into pieces, shifting from pocket experimentalists to pop aficionados in one fell swoop. But an odd thing happens on those repeat listens: both bands begin to emerge victorious on Microcastle
, and we come to realize that this isn’t Cox’s record; it is ours.
These kids come with gasoline and they strike a match / to get older still
is one of the most inventive indie rock records of the decade, a fact that seems to have slipped the minds of a surprisingly underwhelmed critic pool. Not once do Deerhunter stay within the boundaries laid out for them, prone to violent misdirection, but they do it with an infectious sense of wonderment. “Cover Me (Slowly)” illustrates this with unrelenting force, walls of guitars fit so snug in the production that the feeling is claustrophobic, suddenly released with a pop with guitarist Lockett Pundt’s turn on vocals in “Agoraphobia.”
Wasted our lives / we wasted our time
has character. It’s the perfect minimalist album, and I stress it as an album
. This is the fractured human spirit, built on instability and loneliness. When the title-track, inky guitar chords that bathe Cox’s confused anguish in puddles of reverb, explodes into a chaotic frenzy of production and drum-battered noise, the effect has nothing on the deceptively cool “Calvary Scars” and its spluttering percussion and wind-chimes breaking down into arpeggios that become the mournful, apologetic “Green Jacket.” “I take what I can / and I give what I have left,” Cox sings, and it comes out in the album’s very mood; Deerhunter’s cherring-picking of ’50s pop filtered through six decades worth of history makes Microcastle
nearly timeless. That Deerhunter do this without the help of delay pedals or effects is astounding.
Crucified on a cross / in front of all my closest friends
But for all the praise it should receive for being the record Deerhunter were destined to make, what will make Microcastle
a classic (and this has every right to become a classic) is what the album means to the person listening. Like what OK Computer
said to an era caught in the terrifying quandary of what it meant to be human in a computer age, Microcastle
suggests we’re more alone than ever, burned out on irreverence and apathy. The climactic reveal of bitter rocker “Nothing Ever Happens” becomes the album’s focus, Cox’s final, desperate refrain a heartbreaking tonal shift from the dreary, apathetic performance before it (“Focus on the depth that was never there / eliminate what you can’t repair”).
I never saw it coming / waiting for something / for nothing
isn’t an album filled with hope or solace like Dear Science
. It doesn’t pepper the spirits like Visiter
. Those albums will be embraced as classics because of where they were going in 2008, the visions they upheld and the palettes they constructed. But Microcastle
bears no such optimism. Bluesy “Saved By Old Times” sharpens its wit on the skeptical, sonic engulfed outro, but the last dance act in “Twilight at the Carbon Lake,” Deerhunter’s crystallized ‘50s crooner, is the worst offender of all. Now here, moving ever forward into a confusing and frustrating millennium, Microcastle
realizes that there really is no country for old men. Most distressing is Deerhunter’s suggestion that there isn’t much left for us, either.
time slows when it goes away go away time slows so long