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[Kranky; 2008]

By ; November 10, 2008 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

If you were one of those people who thought Deerhunter’s 2007 album Cryptograms was a bunch of noise, Microcastle may change your mind about this band completely. The album refines the more accessible parts of Cryptograms. Opening, “Cover Me (Slowly)”, is more than a little indebted to My Bloody Valentine. It has strikes a Loveless-like balance between clean and droning guitars, and builds to a stunning crescendo before crashing. It then immediately segues into “Agoraphobia,” which doesn’t feature the familiar voice of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, but rather the voice of Lockett Pundt. The song makes use of simple wordplay (“cover me” becomes “come for me,” which becomes “comfort me”), which nicely compliments the music. This song is the dictionary definition of “ambient pop.” A few guitars, simple drums, and spacey lyrics can create an atmosphere that far exceeds the sum of its parts. “Never Stops” brings back Cox, who turns in what may be the catchiest song Deerhunter has ever recorded. Its funky, happy, and bouncy all at once, with a terrific Cox vocal performance.

Microcastle‘s confusing middle section (“Calvary Scars”, “Green Jacket”, “Activa”) is as close to Atlas Sound as this album comes. “Calvary Scars” comes very slowly, with acoustic noodling, and its sound effects lead right into the piano-filled “Green Jacket”. This middle section has been deemed “skippable” by some fans, but at the right times, these songs can be great.

Out of absolutely nowhere, a long song (at last) comes in. “Nothing Ever Happened, which is in fact, the longest on the album, kicks in with an almost grungy type bass, catchy drums, and then an incredible guitar line. The opening guitar line is the most breathtaking moment on the entire album. Cox’s vocal comes in, all meandering, and then goes into a crashing chorus. About 2 minutes in, the vocals are gone, and its the best straight-forward guitar showcase on the entire album. Whereas with Cryptograms, you had these ambient guitar passages, here, the guitar is in your face and rocking. “Nothing Ever Happened” should be a major contender for Song of the Year when the time comes.

“Saved by Old Times” is run by these extremely complex guitar workings that sit one on top of another, with numerous samples flying in and out of the song. Acoustic guitar is incredibly prominent, which you don’t see often with these guys. The section in the middle where two second vocal lines are coming out of the separate channels reminds me of the way Brian Eno recorded vocals on Another Green World, but these are recorded from what sounds like a phone. “Neither of Us, Uncertainly” is full of fantastic whirlwind-like guitars that surround you almost like something on Cryptograms. Again, Lockett Pundt takes lead vocals on this song, and much like “Agoraphobia”, his voice is a contrast to Cox’s, by being in somewhat of a lower register. It ends very suddenly in an ambient soundscape that flows almost perfectly into “Twilight at Carbon Lake”. This song is incredible of a closer as you can get. Starting out in washes of guitar, with Bradford sounding almost underwater, samples surround him and give another soundscape. Midway through, the song totally picks up and crashes loudly, with Cox singing incredible background harmonies you really gotta listen for.

Overall, Deerhunter went after making more of a cleaner pop album, and they absolutely succeeded. They still have traces of their signature sound, but they’ve added in new elements that will attract new listeners while keeping the old ones. Microcastle leaves you satisfied, and high hopes for the future of the band.


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