Bradford Cox's Alt Empire
This week, Atlanta's zone-rock unit Deerhunter unveil their seventh album, Monomania; the title track -- convulsive, raving denouement and all -- has already made the indie-blog rounds to some acclaim. But at this point Bradford Cox, the band's primary songwriter, has been so active for so long (in Internet years, anyway) that it's easy to take his varied compositional gifts for granted.
Deerhunter's unprintably titled 2005 debut has been effectively (and conveniently!) disowned by the band. So 2007's Fluorescent Grey EP and breakout full-length Cryptograms are where the fun really starts, with teasing melodies and ambient drift filtered through grit, grift and a chlorine truck full of reverb.
The one-two punch of Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. followed in 2008. The former offered a nuanced update to Cox's songwriting formulas (see the elegiac "Little Kids" and the Grace Kelly wind-up of "Microcastle"); the latter exploded into punch-drunk, no-filter lunacy (see "Cicadas" for some spidery clatter and hum). And while 2009's Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP added swinging garage surges and the following year's Halcyon Digest brought a weighted balance of considered studio experiments ("Earthquake") and idiosyncratic pop ("Basement Scene"), Deerhunter's edge seemed to have dulled somewhat.
But by then, Cox had another, equally fertile sideline. Post-Microcastle, those agitating for the frontman's dronier, more abrasive side took solace in the piles of official and unofficial VHS murmur and slither he pursued as Atlas Sound. That band's debut, 2008's Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel, plunged listeners into an ocean of nitrogen feedback and a sung-through-teeth ennui so narcotized that its many hooks came into focus only after multiple listens, like a Magic Eye poster (see "Cold as Ice").
Many strung-out EPs, splits and singles later, 2009's Logos spun its predecessor's stoned indifference into profound loner folk so hypnotic and madrigal (see "Quick Canal") that guests like Panda Bear and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier felt peripheral. Cox's decision to present himself as an indie-rock Rat Pack icon on the cover of 2011's Parallax is baffling, even now, but it underlines his daring, and his gusto for artistic reinvention. So does this playlist.