Bradford Cox (of Deerhunter) didn’t like his band’s first record. 2005’s Turn It Up Faggot was the result of much animosity and negativity between the ever changing line-up of members signaling the need for Deerhunter to turn a new leaf. Now in 2008, with the latest record from the Atlanta outfit already having been leaked, the negative energy seems to have followed the band yet again. What was supposed to be set for an October release, Microcastle was hacked and leaked online, enabling people to get free copies five months ahead of schedule. In response, Cox and company made it available on iTunes in early August. The hackers did more harm than good, however, when they decided to get greedy and steal again. This time, the victim being Weird Era Cont., the secret bonus disc that was to be released with the new album, all but “ruining Christmas.”
But ultimately, the virtual drama didn‘t have any actual effect on Microcastle or prevent Deerhunter from producing a record of solid music that is heavy on the layering of ambient noise and post-punk art rock, all under the reigns of Cox’s simple and predictable voice. And for that, a bit of positiveness can found amidst all the problems.
2007’s highly received Cryptograms focused on long tracks that included lengthy atmospheric intros and outros, with some songs devoted entirely to that shoe-gaze style (e.g. “Providence”). All of those elements still exist on Microcastle, but in shorter forms as the songs on Deerhunter’s third record get to the point and stay focused, rarely drifting off.
“Cover Me (Slowly)” serves as the records introduction, and does so quite well with “Agoraphobia” slipping through next. The second track is nothing more than an indie pop tune that is easy on the ears but when held to a higher standard, begins to lose something as it melts into every other song of this variety already out there. As the record progresses with “Never Stops” and “Little Kids”, Cox’s song writing begins to lose its originality as it sounds like he is trying too hard to rehash the music of his predecessors.
Microcastle’s title track is a sleepy number with soft guitars and warbled vocals that create the perfect soundtrack to a dream sequence. By the last minute however the music picks up and transforms the song into one of the best on the record. What the track also signals is a turn around for the album as it presents a shortened take on what Deerhunter does best. “Calvary Scars” kicks it off taking the listener back to the dreamscapes for the next three short songs. Once “Activa” finishes its final notes, it is back to what the record started out with, Pixies drenched rock, but something is different this time around.
“Nothing Ever Happened” is an ode to slackers and procrastination with fuzzy garage guitars and sonic backing solos that are barely heard when blended into the hopeful and exciting melody. That last minute or so could easily be called the peak of the record because for the remainder of the next forty-one minutes, Cox and company take us to a better constructed version of where the album started. What could have easily been marked off as mediocre is thankfully “Saved By Old Times” as it were. The final three songs are exactly where Deerhunter should have been all a long as it shows appropriate musical growth without alienating the fan base.
“Twilight at Carbon Lake” finishes the record and gives us a serious dose of psychedelics before cutting us off cold turkey. It’s a strong finish for the band. With simple warped vocals and melody to carry it though, the track builds itself into a frenzy of light distortion as all the elements come together in an uninhibited manner. This is short lived however, as they leave us hanging after all that build up.
Deerhunter’s latest effort presents itself as a slight revival of the original ambient rock movement with more of a pop based expansion on to it. And although the beginning songs aren’t as punctual, the magic creeps in and is revived by the end. To give them credit however, the band is still young and it is obvious that there is room for growth. The beauty of the ambient rock genre is that it’s open to endless experimentation and we begin to see that, but only once the record has finished. Nonetheless, Microcastle is a solid piece of music that’s fun to listen to, and to top it off, nothing feels like filler. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the lost secret disc that was to accompany this one just before Halloween, and it may be required to fully understand where these southerners are going musically. As for now, we have a sample, and a good one at that.