Review Summary: Cox’s newest release is an ever-changing mold of what we want it to be, and if we allow it time it will find a snug new home in our hearts.
Bradford Cox has been finding his footing for a while now in the music scene. Through his experience creating atmospheric music, it has become clear what works for him, and what simply doesn’t; for instance, off his independently released debut album Logos (released through the moniker Atlas Sound) Cox found his voice in a few powerful tracks but failed to impress with the album as a whole. Too often we found the Atlanta-born “ambient pop” musician dwelling too insularly in the warmth of his own musical ideas, reminiscent of a child hiding under his homemade fort and taking no notice of his friends on the outside, eager for entry. In his own insular way, Cox let us see that there was a powerful amount of passion, but it simply wasn’t particularly channeled in a digestible manner. This problem had made me quite skeptical of Parallax, an album that attempts to hit even more targets than Logos did. On the first listen, it felt like an empty palette, a messy conglomeration of ideas loosely tied together; the ambiance came across as more of a substitute for muddled melodies amongst sub-par vocals, and it felt more lazy than minimalist. There are times that it seems obvious that you've reached the height of enjoyment for a particular album, and this is honestly how I felt after “Nightworks” wrapped itself up for the first time in its disorderly fashion.
However, to have abandoned this release after the first listen would have been a grave mistake, for the album makes more sense when it’s already garnered a bit of exposure. The most important thing to remember about Cox’s newest release is that it is an ever-changing mold of what we want it to be, and if we allow it time it will find a snug new home in our hearts. The candid splendor of “The Shakes”, the gorgeous atmosphere of “Doldrums” – the greatest moments of Parallax are meek, and can be easy to miss. But overall there are countless treasures to be plundered, and so many dreamy hooks that accomplish what Logos aimed for, milestones that it missed more often than not. “My Angel Is Broken” is a fine example, a soaring ballad that combines a sleek guitar riff with swelling harmonies. The most refreshing aspect of Parallax is its sense of confidence; the album is self-assured, and it honestly doesn’t give a damn whether you enjoy it or not.
The most noticeable problem with Parallax is that a couple of its songs are more on the weaker side, and dampen the experience as a whole. Most of this has to be with Cox’s vocals - “Praying Man” is just unpleasant, especially because of the poor vocal performance within that maybe Win Butler could pull off, but certainly not our friend from Deerhunter. It feels almost as if he isn’t taking his work seriously in moments, which puts a damper on the experience; on top of this Cox simply sings far out of his range in a few key moments on the album. It's just unfortunate that a few parts of Parallax had the potential to be among the greatest, had it not been for his stumbling falsetto. The album also drags a little towards the end, as the last two songs are just not up to par with the others. The highlights can sometimes be missed between more grating moments, and this leads to the blemishes on this otherwise enjoyable record becoming a little more exasperating.
Overall, though, Parallax is quite consistent, and its peaks tend to outweigh the troughs. "Terra Incognita" is one of its most enjoyable moments, sporting swells of musical delight that stay with the listener even though Cox’s voice feels somewhat out of its comfort zone. "Amplifiers" is also a stand-out track, due to the sinister riff of the verse that intrigues and entices the listener.Through the repeated listens that are necessary to enjoy this album it becomes apparent that the Cox's vocal frailty can add a sense of a relatable nature, an obstacle finally conquered for his independent work. The amount of effort placed into Parallax is evident, and is what prompted this initial naysayer to re-evaluate this album and discover what he hadn’t noticed on the first listen. An ultimately fulfilling experience, Parallax comforts and endears patient listeners in the form of Cox’s most developed effort yet. It serves as an eye into Cox’s brain and the world he constructed himself, from the ashes of Logos and his more introverted self, into a thoroughly impressive monument that Bradford Cox can more comfortably identify himself with.
This is wavering somewhere between a 3 and 3.5 for me. The ambient side of it is insubstantial (if also a little unfeeling) and the indie-pop side of affairs is run of the mill. I do like it, it's just a bit bland at the end of the day. (for me)
I agree Aids; the Logos one sticks out in my mind particularly. It's good to grab people's attention like that; I know I find myself drawn to albums with the most interesting artwork, so at least he gets guys like me to listen to his music. And thanks!
Stranger, I know what you mean. I find that the more I listen to it the more I enjoy it, although truthfully it's a solid 3.75 for me right now. That's why the review was a 4but my personal rating is a 3.5 ;]
Jacob, this review is SO good. You articulate your points very well and the writing itself is very
fluid; have a hearty pos from me!
That said, I think you meant to put "Nightworks" here, at the end of the first paragraph:
"There are times that it seems obvious that there’s no more enjoyment to be had from a musical
piece, and this is honestly how I felt after “Lightworks” wrapped itself up for the first time
in its disorderly fashion."
While well written, I gotta disagree with some of this review. Parallax is his best work as Atlas Sound so far. The songs are grafted together tighter and they showcase his songwriting ability rather than his first album which wound interesting ambiance with indecipherable lyrics half the time (though it's still a very good album).
Here, I find very few tracks to be missteps or poor efforts, and I wouldn't even go as far as to label them "poor" merely my least favorite. You're spot on with "lightworks" though (erroneously listed here as "Nightworks"), and while "Terra Incognita" is a great song, I feel it's the weakest (for lack of a better term). The finalized version of "Mona Lisa" soars, it's a great way to cap off a perfect first half of the album, then going right into "Praying Man" which isn't my favorite track either, but I'd hardly consider it "unpleasant."
To each their own though, I'm considering Parallax the best album of the year, and a strong showing from Cox who no longer feels the need to hide behind walls of sonic bliss and distortion when he doesn't have Deerhunter.
Does this sound like his last album? Cause I'll pass if so.
And you have some syntactical issues in your writing, and some of your phrases are oddly worded, for example: in the first sentence, instead of saying "of fame from Deerhunter" just say "of Deerhunter fame"
Halcyon Digest is fucking amazing. as is Microcastle. both took fucking ages to grow on me though. I thought Deerhunter was overrated hipster trash until I saw their live show. My god, they're incredible live.
Gyromania, thank you so much! x) I corrected what you pointed out, also, so cheers for pointing out that silly mistake.
McMega, thanks friend. I agree with you on what you said about Cox hiding behind walls of "sonic bliss"; it seems as if he's gained a bit of courage as of late. I definitely find this a step in the right direction - I also am glad that you enjoy it so much!
TheBhoy, thank you for the heads-up. I spent some quality time editing this review, and you should be more keen on it now.
STOPSHOUTING- thank you for the kind words. Hopefully you approve more of it now.
And Acad, I was thinking about making the summary something clever about how this is better than BTBAM's latest but decided to take the professional route...