Review Summary: Was not seen again.
Listeners later connected hugely with Microcastle
's more down-to-earth approach to alienation and suffering, but on 2007's Cryptograms
, Deerhunter explored these same themes through aural dreamscapes and abstract (yet unmistakably artful) phantasms. It's arguable that this could potentially "mask" Deerhunter's intentions for some, letting the band's message dissipate in a smothering of ghost whispers and murky drones, but for those who listen closely and intently, in its detachment from normal musical habits, Cryptograms
will successfully reveal its mystic powers again and again.
With "Intro", the album starts in a confused mist of sounds, ranging from pulsing bass notes to cricket noises to running water. The track, without introducing so much as a melody or hook, successfully builds tension straight into the title track, which introduces a wicked guitar line and frontman Bradford Cox's monotone musings ("My greatest fear, I fantasized / The days were long, the weeks flew by / Before I knew I was awake / My days were through, it was too late"). Cox (who, at surface level, appears to be an inherently "silly" frontman) reveals himself to be quite the dark poet here, his bleak meditations reinforced by the band's intense grooves. In addition to introducing Cox's unique brand of verse, the song also acts as an indicator (or, for some, a warning sign) of what's to come: even before the song thrusts itself into its overwhelming climax ("There was no sound"), the disorienting effect the song employs is already apparent, and those who can't take the heat have probably already put on something a little more calming.
With the possible exception of the stomping "Lake Somerset", the title track is the last thing that can be called a "rock" song for quite a while: from the drowned-in-sound guitars of "White Ink" to the repeating string motifs of "Providence", the period up until "Spring Hall Convert" is spent by the band indulging in sonics, culling from ambient, shoegaze, and psych-rock in equal measure. Normally, this section of the review would be dedicated to chastising the band for their lack of restraint, but the simple fact is that Deerhunter fail to make a wrong step throughout this "atmospheric" section of the album, maintaining an uneasy sense of beauty throughout. Even though, with the absence of vocals, these songs lack a clear lyrical direction, they hold the same dark power that songs like the title track do, demonstrating the band's skill in mood-setting.
The section of "rock" (excluding short ambient piece "Tape Hiss Orchid") songs that close off the album are no less noteworthy in their conveying of that same atmosphere. "Spring Hall Convert" utilizes what is essentially a simple four-chord pattern, but, through its use of dreamy production, lends itself to the shady aura that the rest of the album holds. "Strange Lights" is about as close as the album gets to a straightforward rock song, sounding almost like an early Lennon-McCartney song given a shoegaze twist, but, unlike "Spring Hall Convert", the song has an uncharacteristically uplifting mood, perhaps due to its otherworldly lyrics ("I walk into the sun / with you the only one").
, Deerhunter did not create a record meant to be analyzed, as, say, Microcastle
could be. However, that does not mean the album does not feel full or cohesive. Though it moves through many genres and ideas, Cryptograms
feels like it keeps an air of desperation and inner turmoil about it. That they dress it up in such a magnificent sonic disguise just makes the whole package more appealing for us disaffected youth here.