Review Summary: A great album, tweaked
The album I want to review is one I’ve fabricated. For this next part, you’ll have to work with me: grab your copy of Halcyon Digest
in whichever format available. Put the album on repeat and click on the second track, "Don't Cry." Breathe easy; this gets good. Press play.
Bradford Cox’ transformation from a a near-mythical figure of the teenage wasteland to one of indie rock’s most formidable stars has been one tapped intrinsically to his musical output. Here’s a guy that probably loves music more than any of us do because
of its abilities as catharsis, and we’ve seen it bring him– and his audience, who he is indebted to and always will be– out of the darkness of his myth and into the light of understanding. Music has been his way of communicating and moving on, used as footnotes to phases (that act on the belief that, like the band’s disowned ”Turn it Up, Faggot”
, things are best said and forgotten than left to stew in the head), and though we are often left to decipher the language by ourselves, it has always been obvious that Cox has a keener understanding of how to articulate the wasted hours we used to know.
The point here being that as far back as Microcastle
and the sophomore effort of his Atlas Sound side-project, Logos
, Cox’ stories have turned outward, a mirror to reflect our own distress even as we are to believe they are his own. Microcastle
became an assimilation of the tired ideas that for decades (even the ones not lovingly paid homage in the shards of shoegaze pop) youths across the globe have fretted about
: a concrete sense of loneliness, plagued by teenagers that are in turn disgruntled, violent and bored, left to fu
ck and love and bitch about it. Cox knows these people; hey, he says, it could even be me. There he stands, with his Myth draped about his shoulders, a playful act absolved by the emotional disconnect of its premise. Deerhunter tear down a myth we fastened to another musician, superimposed as it is over Cox’ jubilant, bigger-than-life persona when met in person. His is a myth contained, absolved, distorted and rendered obsolete here, on Deerhunter’s most fashionable release yet.
I’ll retract a bit to delve into my first paragraph. For a while I sat on Halcyon Digest
and found myself dissatisfied. “Earthquake” has all the trappings of a great intro, and services the titillating build-up that has become a staple of releases “such as this,” which I leave in quotations only to point out the absurdity I felt in this pandering. As soon as “Don’t Cry” lifts and locks into its groove, its abrupt mood-shift rings hollow, unable to contend with the heavy atmosphere that lingers heavy over the succeeding album. And though “Revival” ushers in a great deal of goodwill with an irresistible garage rock hook, it demands to be one-upped after pulling Halcyon Digest
from its murky (and misleading) naval-gazing; instead, “Sailing” shoulders the important duty of expanding the album’s themes in the same way it does the palette, but only after “Earthquake” has dutifully handled this quirk. And now suddenly “Memory Boy,” bright and abrupt, it bangs about quickly where “Sailing” cuddled the void. “Desire Lines” is asked to sustain a bridge, lost of a focal point, though it stands as the most natural and beguiling song thus far. In short, the album felt irreparably off, forever filler to the obvious standouts that weigh down the end.
This bright idea came to me one day when “Don’t Cry” appeared like a pleasant daydream, and I recalled its lilt fondly. When I came back to the album later, I started there. After such a long and doting day, all seemed to click firmly into place: a guitar slide, echoing the cassette pick-up on Halcyon Digest
‘s true precedent, the underrated Weird Era Cont.
; Cox promising easy sentiments such as, “Come on little boy / I am your friend / I understand the pain you’re in”; and– oh, the pleasures!– brevity
. Squandered by such an obvious opener, “Don’t Cry” is denied its right to lift Halcyon Digest
right up into the stratosphere. The quicker to get to “Revival,” right? It’s a sugar rush we’re not accustomed to, and “Sailing” is a surprisingly pleasant breather, its great sweeps of sparse guitar arrangements built like awnings over Cox’ fragile ruminating (“Only fear can make you feel lonely out here / You learn to accept whatever you can get”). By the time it is done, “Memory Boy” great big burst of light feels earned, and conceptually perfect, as Cox offers us a glimpse into the personal narrative that brings us closer to where “here” is, and if it’s even a place defined: “It’s not a house anymore / Try to recognize your son / in your eyes he’s gone.”
Having cracked Halcyon Digest
, there’s no denying that I’m now aware of the quality to the tracks even as I weave “Earthquake” back into its original position. I can only offer this analogy as validation: were it 2 p.m. on a muggy June afternoon, would you take to Burial’s Untrue
, shrouded in the very darkness it needs to stir its power? “Earthquake” acts as that sort of modifier, and shifting it allowed Halcyon Digest
to break free of that tether, to allow all of its themes to line up without obtrusion. Music connoisseur that he is, I’m sure Bradford would understand. He is the one that breaks down the album’s title as “a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones.” So while “He Would Have Laughed” works well enough as a closer, its importance is trapped between a rowdy Springsteen nod (one word: saxophone) and emptiness. A tribute to the late Jay Reatard, “He Would Have Laughed” is the perfect blend between the songwriting techniques Cox used on Atlas Sound and the assured, heavy footed approach the band takes, dipping between a cascade of shimmering chords as drummer Moses Archuleta maintains an entrancing shuffle. And then it ends, cut short like the life it emulates, and the CD proper is enveloped in silence. I, on the other hand, invent an alternative, and there comes a soft wallop, and then a guitar idles in, and Cox conjures up the cloudiest of memories, but it’s coming back now, a dirty couch in the grey fog, a grey dog, he was barking down the street, columns shake beneath my feet, this isn’t a memory, this is a dream, and this truly is where he would have laughed, this is what we do when we sleep. Suddenly I want to remember this again, come on, little boy, I am your friend...