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First Impressions: Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

By ; August 31, 2010 at 5:10 PM 

1. “Earthquake” – 5.00

Slow, steady drum beat to start off that is gradually swathed in more and more layers of rapidly strummed reverbed guitars, with Bradford’s muffled sing-speaking almost incoherent in the mix. The layers gradually build until it breaks and then it starts to build again. An unorthodox slow opener but absolutely perfect in its own way.

2. “Don’t Cry” – 2.49

A more standard pace this time, jaunty strummed guitar accompanies Bradford’s double tracked vocals sweetly encouraging a kid to keep his head up. A simple pop song, almost Beatles-via-Deerhunter.

3. “Revival” – 2.14

It almost seems like part 2 of “Don’t Cry,” just a bit livelier with added piano and a more evident bass presence driving the “chorus.” The tinkling ivories bring a bar type vibe to this song which is quite new for Deerhunter. But you probably already know all about this one.

4. “Sailing” – 5.00

A slow, brooding, atmospheric piece that is essentially just Bradford singing over a lone guitar. It’s in a similar ilk to the start of “Calvary Scars II” but this one doesn’t build anywhere near as much, some very sparse percussion is used in the chorus and there is of course some unidentifiable rumblings and shiverings creeping around in the background, but essentially it’s all about Bradford’s voice and guitar, which is appropriate for a song about solitude. Bradford produces a beautiful falsetto that I didn’t know he was capable of to sing out the track.

5. “Memory Boy” – 2.09

Memory Boy explodes into life off the back of the demure “Sailing” with the guitar melody being accentuated by a tinkling keyboard and harmonicas. The whole song has something of a marching, cavalry-like feel to it. Once again Bradford is double tracked as he leads us through the bouncy verses into the undeniably catchy chorus of “it’s not a house anymore” (x4). There is a 30-40 second jam towards the end which somehow simultaneously reminiscent of The Clash’s “London Calling” and Coldplay’s “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”. They’ve used the 2.09 incredibly efficiently, one of the most immediate tracks on the album.

6. “Desire Lines” – 6.44

Locket takes over and shows that he’s got plenty of his own ideas to put forth. Although the first 5 seconds sounds lifted from Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion” the song is in fact quite different. With the best chorus on the album, this is one that might produce the first Deerhunter live singalong, vocally it’s the most anthemic song they’ve ever recorded. Then about halfway through the song the vocals cease entirely allowing the guitars to go walkabout, not unlike the second half of “Nothing Ever Happened” but much less frantic, in fact it’s closer to “Saved By Old Times” in terms of pace and tone. Almost unnoticeably the guitars are getting gradually messier and messier (possibly multiple layering of guitar tracks) until you have an audio spaghetti of shimmering guitars to play out the final moments.

7. “Basement Scene” – 3.41

The start of this one is looping on the Halcyon Digest site, and that eerie beat forms the foundation, with a slinking, bumping guitar works over the top. Another simple piece with Bradford crooning about his fears of aging while Locket works some sonic magic around the wordless portions of his vocals. At the end I thought he was singing “In the clubs they know my name” which would have been discomfortingly close to something Weezer sang about on their most recent album, but fortunately it turns out it’s “bluffs” not “clubs.”

8. “Helicopter” – 4.58

Not much different from the version that was played on BBC a few months back, but with a few added sound effects that sound a bit like bubbles. Pure blissed-out sonic gourgeousness. The final build of fuzz and feedback before it lulls back into that beautiful sonic cascade with Bradford repeating “now they are through with me” in his falsetto is one of the finest moments in their catalogue.

9. “Fountain Stairs” – 2.38

Locket takes over again and produces another great chorus, but overall this is essentially a straightforward rock song and not as exciting as the majority of the others. Fortunately this is Deerhunter and nothing is entirely straightforward; the different layers that beef up the chorus are sure to get your head nodding and it’s not a bad song by any means.

10. “Coronado” – 3.19

Probably the most “different” sounding song on this album, in no small part thanks to the inclusion of saxophone, low in the mix during the verses then cutting in for its chance in the limelight between the verses. A really upbeat, stomper of a track. Possibly the happiest song they’ve ever recorded, it’s borderline a party song, I could even see it being used on a montage in a feel-good movie.

11. “He Would Have Laughed” – 7.29

I don’t know if I would have felt this if I hadn’t read in the press release that Bradford had recorded this separately, but the first minute or two of this sounds like an Atlas Sound song more than Deerhunter. A simple, repetitive drumbeat underlines a simple looped keyboard melody whilst Bradford sings over the top. “I’m a gold digging man” he sings “I won’t rest ’til I buy your land, ooooooh” and then in a sudden burst the rest of Deerhunter seem to arrive, adding weight to the song with additional bass and drums, before they fade again for another verse. After two run-throughs of this trick the track is broken in half by a lovely set of vocal harmonies that lead the song into a second half that is looser and dreamier. This second half seems to be sung from the perspective of someone in the afterlife (appropriate for a song about Jay Reatard) and the dream-like qualities of the music really emphasise this. The song floats on until finally it fades away.

Overall this record is possibly Deerhunter’s most accessible yet. The channeling of 60’s bands in the shorter songs fuses impressively with the reverb and fuzz they’re known for. In the second half they return more to the extended jams, but they never get quite as heavy as anything from Cryptograms, allowing their melodies to express themselves . It’s not a complete curveball from the band, but it takes steps in several new directions whilst staying faithful to their own sound at its core.

Halcyon Digest is being released by 4AD on September 28th, and the day before in the rest of the world.

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