[Kranky; 2012]

Lockett Pundt keeps to himself. He doesn’t do too many interviews. As a member of the ambient-punk outfit Deerhunter, his quiet personality takes a backseat to the eccentricities of frontman Bradford Cox. Stage fright is something that he’s still working on, although he’s been performing for several years. His shyness bled into the first album that he released as Lotus Plaza; you can hear it in the echo-drenched vocals that he pushed towards the back of the mix. The Floodlight Collective is a decent record, thanks to its hypnotic guitar work and lush ambient passages. But it’s impossible to ignore how the music drowns out his voice, especially after hearing it so vividly on Deerhunter staple “Agoraphobia.”

One of the most immediately striking aspects of Pundt’s follow-up, Spooky Action At A Distance, is how clear everything sounds, voice included. Take “Strangers,” the first proper song on the album, as an example. A crisp, snare-driven drum line and a web of guitar melodies set the track into immediate motion. When the lyrics join in, they’re refreshingly audible, with only a hint of reverb effecting Pundt’s drowsy delivery. Something has to be said about how much more confident he sounds as a solo musician on this record, not only in terms of vocal clarity but also in terms of style. He has trimmed much of the ambience away, only bookending the album with a pair of brief drones. Elsewhere, he sticks to what he does best: lulling guitar-pop that is indebted to the ghosts of shoegaze and post-punk.

Because of the direction that Pundt takes with this record, there’s an unavoidable comparison that arises; the music sounds very similar to his songwriting contributions for Deerhunter. Some of his best work for the group, tracks like “Desire Lines” and “Strange Lights,” match the dreamy aesthetic of Spooky Action At A Distance to a T – think repetitive beats, shimmering guitar loops, and minimal outros that drag like an aural acid trip. In essence, if you’ve followed Deerhunter at all, you’re not going to find Lotus Plaza to be anything groundbreaking.

But I’m not knocking Pundt for maxing out his own sound; sure, he’s blurring the lines between projects, but Spooky Action At A Distance isn’t a total rehash either. There are aspects of this album that feel distinctly new, although it sticks to a familiar template as a whole. While all of the songs bleed into one blissfully ephemeral trip, there are bits and pieces that stick. The gradual comedown of “Strangers,” the gentle acoustic guitar of “Black Buzz,” and the plinking piano melody that drives the sprawling coda on “Jet Out Of The Tundra” continue to capture my attention every time I listen straight through. Perhaps even more striking are the moments on Spooky Action that push towards accessible rock. “Out of Touch” features a “whoa-oh-oh” chorus that fans will invariably sing along to during live performances, while the soaring hook of “Monoliths” comes across like – dare I say it – a young Coldplay lost in deep meditation.

“Meditative” is probably the best way to describe the 44-minute trajectory of this album. The songs sprawl until Pundt finally decides that he’s ready to move ahead. Opinions will be split over whether the effect is more monotonous than captivating, but I’m inclined towards the latter. For example, the krautrock pulse of “Remember Our Days” induces something of a zen-like state, as the drum machine relentlessly taps out a rhythm against an understated riff. On top, a vocal line meditates on parting ways, while holding onto the promise of a nostalgic reconnection:

“If I don’t see you again / I’m glad that you were my friend / I’ll remember our days,” Pundt vows. These lyrics neatly sum up my feelings about Spooky Action At A Distance; if I don’t revisit it, (and I might not, because it wasn’t exactly mind-blowing), I appreciate it for at least being a pleasant listen.