Deerhunter‘s Microcastle, their latest opus and follow-up to 2006’s acclaimed Cryptograms, has been available on iTunes since August 19th, but finally came out in physical form (CD/LP) yesterday. After the drama that unfolded a couple months ago, not to mention that the album itself leaked back in May, it’s nice to see Microcastle officially arrive and begin to accrue its critical accolades. And sure, some of you are thinking “non-digital media is dead!”, but with this latest release fans can also get their hands on Weird Era Cont., a bonus full-length album of entirely new material. Sure, this leaked as well (see aforementioned “drama”), but now we can hear it in all of its fully mastered glory.
I was a latecomer to the Cryptograms party (it’s definitely grown on me quite a bit over the past year), but there’s no disputing that it was a major breakthrough for Deerhunter. If you pay any amount of attention to independent music, you absolutely could not escape them in 2006. They produced a fairly rabid following, earned plenty of critical support, and, of course, attracted a pocket of committed detractors. (What would the internet be without them?). But, I’d be glad to wager that even a number of them will be won over by this new record.
While the dark, distorted hypnotics of Cryptograms pushed, surged, and meandered down strange and rewarding paths, Microcastle takes pieces of its foundation and delves into new territory with something softer, brighter, and significantly poppier. Deerhunter remains a decidedly guitar-centered band, constructing their rich soundscapes with shoegazer waves of distortion, memorable chord progressions, and infectious hooks. The overwhelming fullness of sound on this record is extremely satisfying; on subsequent listens, you can easily find new layers of texture to immerse yourself in or simply let all of them wash over you in a transcendent haze. And somewhere in that haze lurk the distinct, ethereal vocals of Bradford Cox, which remain equally important in defining Deerhunter’s sound and direction and, like just about every aspect of this band, seem to improve with each release. As ultimately a product of his vision, Microcastle contains familiar, recurring themes — solitude, sadness, death, monotony, rejection. In the wrong hands, such themes lend themselves to cliché, but Cox approaches and executes them with a level of sincerity and mystery that propels them far beyond the banal.
Then, on top of that, you’ve got Weird Era Cont. It was tempting to assume that this would just end up being a disjointed collection of decent rejects. Surely, between the Flourescent Grey EP, short Deerhunter hiatus, Atlas Sound album, and the absurd amount of free music that’s been offered up on the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound blog, Deerhunter doesn’t have enough material to put out a second cohesive album in 2008? Yeah, they do. And it’s good. In fact, it’s really good. Not only is this work cohesive, but it also stands apart from the record it’s packaged with. Twisting psychdelic-rock pulses and fades underneath production murky enough to make Microcastle seem crisp and clear, its pop tendencies partially stifled with a muzzle of noise and passages of crescendoing ambience. I haven’t yet processed Weird Era Cont. fully, but it seems to be the flipside to Microcastle. Related, yet distinctly seperate ideas… as if the band came to a fork in the road of their creative development and decided to take both paths. At any rate, its otherworldly beauty certainly exceeds my expectations.
Download: Deerhunter – Never Stops (from Microcastle)
Download: Deerhunter – Nothing Ever Happened (from Microcastle)
Download: Deerhunter – Vox Celeste (from Weird Era Cont.)