Review Summary: With "Halcyon Digest," Deerhunter have crafted a jovial, yet deep piece of work that urges you to abandon all reservations and explore.
To be perfectly honest, Deerhunter have never done much for me. Yeah the spacey fuzz that’s been prevalent in their music is pretty nifty, but it’s never been successful in grabbing my attentions. Sure, parts of their 2008 effort, “Microcastle,” were shear brilliant, but I never saw the genius in it as a whole. And the rest of their discography, well, it was complete hit or miss for me. Some of the stuff is good, yet I found quite a bit of it forgettable. That being said, “Halcyon Digest” grabbed my attention right from the get-go. The “guerilla marketing” technique mixed with some early sampling of the album really hooked me. Although hesitant, I took the plunge into “Halcyon Digest.”
And it was a great decision indeed.
“Halcyon Digest” is almost impossible to describe without going into intense detail. The album is deceptively simplistic. On the surface, it’s a bunch of chill tunes with a beautifully fuzzy aesthetic. However, delving deeper and you find a very complex and intriguing piece of work. And that’s the beauty of “Halcyon Digest.” You get what you put into it. With superficial listens, the album is a cool and collected neo-psychedelic affair. Yet for those who jump in with both feet will be rewarded with a magnificent piece of art. Regardless of how you enjoy it, the album will impress nonetheless.
On “Halcyon Digest,“ Deerhunter’s sound is intensely unique, while at the same time somewhat familiar. The album takes subtle cues from classic rock acts, most notably The Beatles. The production is grainy, and reminiscent of an album one would hear from the 60’s. Everything has an airy feel to it, which gives the album a great sense of personality and character. Along with the classic rock aesthetics is an overlaying shoegaz-y atmosphere, and this is where Deerhunter truly excels. Instead of simply emulating other acts, the band takes a few influences from multiple artists and turns them on their heads. It has the chill vibes of an old psychedelic record, and the warm feeling of modern day fuzz. It’s wholly original and incredibly fresh.
The band works like parts of an organism. The excellent percussive elements work like the legs and arms, keeping the entire album moving along with wonderful pace. While you aren’t likely to hear Moses Archuleta tear up his set, you will definitely hear his brilliant use of different types of percussion instruments. The variety is wonderful, with the shakers and woodblocks keeping things exceptionally interesting. The guitars are the circulatory system, making sure everything flows perfectly throughout. The different use of tones is immaculately planned. As was with the drums, the same goes for the guitars. There’s no “shredding” or crushing distortion, but rather some very thoughtful texturing. Rarely, if ever, do they take center stage. The guitars exist solely for the atmosphere, and it’s much better because of it. And the heart of the whole operation would be Bradford Cox. Cox is surprisingly versatile on “Halcyon Digest.” He croons, whispers, and even goes falsetto. Often times his vocals are superbly evocative and personal. Although he may seem fairly flat at times, the emotion is genuine, and the passion is obvious.
“Halcyon Digest” makes a few missteps with the song selection. While some songs are simply mind-blowing, others come off as a little flat and uninspired. “Earthquake” is the album’s opening track, and a fairly weak one at that. It’s meanders for far too long. It consists of a slightly twangy guitar played over some incredibly fuzzy vocals and electronic sounds. It’s atmospheric and fairly immersive, but at five minutes the song wears out it’s welcome rather quickly. I understand the need for a gradual and subdued intro, but it’s just a very uninteresting track.
Fortunately, things pick up considerably with the one-two punch of “Don’t Cry” and “Revival.” Both songs are a little over two minutes in length, and they encompass the very best parts of “Halcyon Digest.” The jovial veracity mixed with the clever shoegaz-y/classic rock combo is pure bliss. They lead right into “Sailing,“ yet another fine song. While it features much of what was disappointing about the intro, it’s absolutely the most calm piece on the entire record. Thanks to the superb and airy production, Cox’s voice really takes center stage. “Memory Boy” is in the same vein as “Revival,” as it is more upbeat and quicker paced than most of the album.
Yet with some really great songs having already come and gone, it wasn’t until the end that I became a believer. “Helicopter” and “Coronado” are simply phenomenal. “Helicopter” is achingly personal, and wholly beautiful, while “Coronado” is simply infectious. An insane saxophone permeates “Coronado,” making the entire song extremely unexpected. It’s a great change of tone, and a killer way to lead into the album’s finale. “He Would Have Laughed” ends the album much the way it started out, in a fairly grandiose fashion. At over seven minutes in length, it is the album’s largest song. Unfortunately, it lacks the personality felt through much of the album. Cox’s singing isn’t as captivating, and the track as a whole is not as provocative.
“Halcyon Digest” has made me a believer. It’s fresh, captivating, and one of the most immersive experiences of the year. Deerhunter have made a very honest album that encourages the listener to dig deeper and discover something new around every corner. And with all reservations gone, I wholly urge you to do so.