Review Summary: Listening to Monomania is like looking through a scrapbook that reflects on Deerhunter's history, their influences, and even gives hints of where they might go next.Monomania
, as its name implies, is an album that is centered around one sole concept-- stirring things up. The music exhibits a constant fluctuation of moods and sounds here, and yet despite the album's capricious nature, Monomania
never loses sight of its thematic plot. This album is a regression to their roots, and by that I'm not necessarily referring solely to Deerhunter's previous work, but the music that influenced their own as well. There's a plethora of musical styles all mingling together within this one album, from the compelling raucous of noise and garage rock, to the catchy hooks of indie pop and the ethereal soundscapes of psychedelia, each genre is broken down, renovated, and then fused together to manifest the ideology of what Deerhunter refers as 'avant-garde rock & roll.'
In songs like "Neon Junkyard", "Leather Jacket II", and "Monomania", we find Deerhunter regressing to the abrasive, 'noise-punk' demeanor of their early days. Though it's only in spirit that these songs share an identical aesthetic to the content in Turn It Up Faggot
and (to an extent) Cryptograms
. Indeed, this is a different kind of noise. Songs like "Death Drag" and "Lake Somerset" were certainly coated under excessive layers of dissonance, but there was a different mindset behind that action. Those noise rock assertions merely scratched the surface of what can be done with amelodic instrumentation and extreme dissonance. "Neon Junkyard", "Leather Jacket II", and "Monomania" are all assaults on the senses, but their piercing sounds don't merely exist for the sake of noise, these waves of sonic distortion have a realized purpose. "Neon Junkyard" and "Monomania" are typically structured rock numbers that progress into surrealistic collages of sonic innovations. "Leather Jacket II" is where Deerhunter descend into complete discord. The entirety of "Leather Jacket II" is obscured by a cloud of unrepentant fuzzes and drones, but it's in the latter portion that the track becomes a dadaist-like display of madness. This distortion 'solo', so to speak, is utterly compelling though and even has a personality to it. It's as if it were mimicking a human voice or a set of notes exuded from an instrument, making it feel more like an essential aspect of the song rather than a decorative component. Much like The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" and "The Black Angel's Death Song" manipulated audio feedback and dissonance to establish either dramatic tension or a hypnotic environment when needed, Deerhunter alter the mood and texture of distortion to evoke a reaction upon the listener that draws them into the chaos rather than repel.
This newfound admiration for a louder sound certainly comes as somewhat of a surprise. Ever since the release of Cryptograms
, and particularly Microcastle
and Halcyon Digest
, Deerhunter appeared to be well devoted to their love for mellifluous allure. If there's one aspect of their music that Deerhunter has always excelled in, it's their instinct for spellbinding atmospheres. In fact, Deerhunter shine best when they're submerging the listener in a tranquil sea of psychedelic melodies. "Sleepwalking", "The Missing", and "T.H.M.", with their euphonic harmonies and relaxed tempos, vaguely rekindle that signature vibe. "Sleepwalking" is, at least in my opinion, the absolute highlight of the album. It's mildly reminiscent of the 'soft-garage' style, and vocal style for that matter, that The Strokes perfected during their pre-Angles
days, while also exhibiting Deerhunter's affinity for textured soundscapes that add a familiar, hazy feel to the music. "Sleepwalking" is driven primarily by mellow, yet catchy guitar riffs and Bradford Cox's tender croons of a complicated romance. A combination that has always been irresistibly enticing. The heavier tracks of the album like "Pensacola", which sounds close to what would happen if The Strokes decided to replicate Iggy Pop's production of Raw Power
, serve as a kind of middle-ground between the noise-inspired spectacles and the mellower songs. These have a primitive, 'back-to-basics' rock sound to them that focuses more on 'tamed' fuzztones and a straightforward delivery, as opposed to the elaborate progressiveness of the other tracks.
To refer back to my opening statement, Monomania
is certainly an exciting album and explores a diverse range of musical philosophies (within Deerhunter's own spectrum of influences, of course), but it does take a bit of commitment to voyage through the fogs of dissonance and fall in love with what lies behind it. Be assured that despite the occasional standouts like "Sleepwalking" and "The Missing", which are more than capable of immediately coercing intrigue, Monomania
is nothing like Microcastle
or Halcyon Digest
which host various potential favourites throughout their respective tracklistings. This abstract and noisier sound in Monomania
presents a style that we, despite sounding familiar, haven't necessarily heard Deerhunter conjure up before. A grand portion of the tracks are very sonically complex and almost unforgiving in their obsession with distorting the expectations of fans, therefore Monomania
is most likely destined to stand alongside Turn It Up Faggot
as an 'acquired taste' within the band's discography. Monomania
still manages to bond with the listener on an emotional level though, but because it lacks the infectious catchiness of its more melodic predecessors, this connection needs to be nourished by a sincere interest to reach the profoundness once encountered in songs like "Agoraphobia" and "Helicopter". With that said, Monomania
isn't an album you can just listen to and expect to be instantly bewildered by the newfound level of finesse and ingenuity. No, Monomania
demands undivided attention and continuous play to truly see the beauty within its surrealism.