Review Summary: Halcyon Digest is a celebration and then a gift; you put your faith in the right hands.
As someone with a habit for music and an even grosser habit for enthusiasm, there’s something about writing on a favourite band- and with Halcyon Digest
, Deerhunter have cemented themselves as one- that makes me feel like I’m playing in a tribute band. I could set up in a pub with a few balding dads this evening and we could rework my favourite indie rock tunes; we’ve got me and my woeful vocal skills, a sloppy drummer with decadent sunglasses and the other guys who ‘like that song’ and have a guitar perched on their office desk. It used to be a reminder of unfulfilled dreams, but no more! And hey, aside from the guy in the corner telling me to keep my day job (or rather, wondering when I’ll get one), I’d be on a parallel plane. I already do the things tribute-acts do: I make bad jokes (we’re the band who never stops) and I do my idol next to no justice. But does it matter? Does it matter that no one in this damned pub is listening to us? Surely it just matters that I said it; I love this band. So meet mine. We’re the Microcastles.
But I can tell you right now that we’re no ordinary suck-fest; we flat out can’t do Deerhunter. And that’s because Deerhunter isn’t a pub band. They couldn’t pull off being the background hum and no matter how hard they tried they wouldn’t go two measly seconds without turning heads. Halcyon Digest
, their fourth full-length exploration into the world of fuzz and pop, makes that a dead cert. Again Deerhunter refresh us with every song, and again they get us to crank our neck around so we can see their newest tricks- even if there aren’t any, they have great sleight of hand. 2010’s record follows swiftly on the heels of the vibrant Microcastle
and drains all the colour, greying out the landscape for something just the same but, in some crazy paradox, completely different.
still buzzes like a Deerhunter record, with songs of similar ilk (you could pair “Sailing” and “Microcastle,” for instance) but with a nerve so radically different it’s hard to know what’s happened. What has
happened to Deerhunter? It’s not the concepts the record runs by- Halcyon Digest
harkens back to memories good and bad, but made up- nor is it the steps sideways in music, although the Strokes-influenced “Coronado” makes a case for the band keeping a saxophonist full-time. In the end, it’s that this album has no real direction, and for a band with a front man who never writes lyrics in advance and makes music so organically, five years seems like enough time to make an album both effortless and perfect. Halcyon Digest
isn’t conflicted for its shifts in music or emotion, it’s delighted for it.
At it’s most daunting, Halcyon Digest
is still a pop album. In this sense, maybe it’s no different from Microcastle
- the album focus “Desire Lines” self-destructs just as “Nothing Ever Happens” did, after all. But there’s something so of-its-own about Halcyon Digest
, something to take bored shoegazers aback. Even those who were expecting Deerhunter to write something wildly different to this (as I did) will be overwhelmed, and for the personality of it alone; eleven songs with lives of their own, joyous or raucous, ditzy or adventurous.
It suits a band with four guys; dreamy ambient ballads like “Earthquake” and the gorgeous “Helicopter” get us thinking we’re floating with Cox’s Atlas Sound, but the record is in upheaval around these markers. Lockett Pundt shows just how good he can be beyond The Floodlight Collective
. When given a voice- one dustier and deeper than his best pal- this guy reveals dimensions the band never knew, going in blazing on the post-punk of “Desire Lines” before the song deflates into smoky solos. This is his moment
, surely, and when every creative force plays with such assurance, the music comes second nature. Halcyon Digest
as a result is the most accomplished, confident Deerhunter record made, contented in stream-of-consciousness narrative and music that never wants to end, be it the refusal on “Desire Lines” or the scatterbrained Cox on “He Would Have Laughed.” Deerhunter is basking.
That’s enough for me; sure, like previous records, Halcyon Digest
scales influences and plays to them, but the band don’t have any interest in being the Velvet Underground or My Bloody Valentine anymore. And Deerhunter aren’t even willing to explode; Cox, Pundt and co. aren’t writing something of grand consequence, even if the record results in the same way. They don’t have
to write pop songs but give in to a couple along the way, with the perfect “Revival” and “Fountain Stairs” products, if you could call them that. Not that these are the best tracks, anyway- the best ones meander into the next until finally we fall in with “He Would Have Laughed,” a Cox penned tribute to the late Jay Reatard and the longest track on the record with the most grandeur because of it. But it falls out with us first, drifting away from Cox’s jittery plucking into assured obscurity. Cox doesn’t seem to care that his song escaped him three minutes earlier.
And I have to ask, who else could write indie rock quite like this? When bands grow older they settle; Arcade Fire did this year with The Suburbs
and Animal Collective put their troubles to bed last year, but has anyone’s music settled as well as this quaint Georgian quartet? Who other than Deerhunter would let their music fall out of their grasp? Halcyon Digest
is huge but just as effortless, conceptualised but just as spontaneous. Deerhunter fans will love it, if for no other reason than it is their favourite band falling on their feet. Without trying. And all in all, you can’t express something like that. I can’t tell you why that’s so great- how could I? How am I supposed to tell you what makes Halcyon Digest
I’m quitting the band. Don’t own an amplifier, anyway.