Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Album of the Week: Deerhunter - "Monomania"

It's been a little over a month since Deerhunter debuted "Monomania" on the Jimmy Fallon show. With his face hiding behind a wig and what appeared to be a bandaged hand consisting of several severed fingers, frontman Bradford Cox stood front and center in a lengthy rockstar pose as he sang the new single. Towards the end, with his bandmates still playing, Cox walked off stage leaving everyone puzzled. Naturally after their "bizarre" performance, the common question circulating amongst viewers seemed to be, "has Bradford Cox taken it too far?" 

Without any previous knowledge of Deerhunter, their behavior can be easy to judge and coined as bizarre, different or even shocking. It's no longer a secret that Cox has an extreme personality and tends to be erratic at times and while we could sit here pondering whether Cox has,"taken it too far," it doesn't make a difference. In a world so flooded with the notion of "indie," Monomania is as relevant as ever and couldn't have come at a better time.

It was around 2008, when I first heard Cryptograms and Microcastle shortly after. At the time it was unlike anything I had heard. The albums rank up there with other classics such a of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. I can say the same for 2010's  Halycon Digest in the sense that the music felt fresh and exciting and while Monomania strays in a new direction, you are absolutely aware that it's Deerhunter.

Their fifth effort may be hard to swallow for diehards expecting or hoping for a continuation of ambient shoegaze or dream pop, as Deerhunter just about abandons that sound entirely. Monomania is without a doubt their most unpredictable, raw and nosiest album to date. It makes sense the majority of the songs came to life around a time plagued with heavy drinking near the release of Parallax (Atlas Sound). "Neon Junkyard" and "Leather Jacket II" open with a swirling array of effects and dense feedback.

For someone who has been praising this album from the start, even I have to admit upon first listen I was a bit confused and a little nervous to uncover the unknown. My nerves were soon calmed with "The Missing," (guitarist) Lockett Pundt's sole contribution to the album, an exceptional piece of pop that is guaranteed to be a hit with fans of his side project, Lotus Plaza. 

With a brief break from the album's dissonance, unpredictability continues throughout with the raw and playful garage rock tones heard on, "Pensacula" before returning to brighter tracks such as, "Dream Boat Captain" or "Blue Agent." "Back to the Middle" slightly resembles something from Cryptograms or even Halcyon Digest; arguably the most upbeat track on the album. "Monomania" references Bradford Cox's obsessive traits as he shouts, "come on god hear my said prayer/if you can't send me an angel/send me something else instead," before finding its way back into a cluster of feedback and noise. The title track eventually concludes with the idle of a small motorbike engine. 

"Nitebike" is nothing more than Cox's reverbed vocals and acoustic guitar reiterating the fact it was originally recorded on an eight track. "I was punk/I was/ drunk/for a month I had no luck" are select words sung on "Punk (La Vie Antérieure)," the perfect ending to an era of "monomania." 

Monomania, an album described as "a very avant-garde rock & roll record," takes you for an unpredictable journey of highs and lows with beauty rarely peering through the chaos. Although the album greatly strays from previous Deerhunter work, the bits and pieces that make Deerhunter a whole are prominent throughout. Despite the given, Deerhunter seems strangely at home, making Monomania one of their most brilliant and relevant works to date.

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