Deerhunter, Mircocastle (Kranky Records, 2008)
It’s bizarre to review an album that has been leaked for what seems like an eternity now, and one that has been available on iTunes, even, for at least a few months. But when you craft something as monumental and mesmerizing as Deerhunter‘s Microcastle, it’s hard to just ignore it as if it’s old news.
Certainly, by now, we’re all pretty familiar with Deerhunter’s story: Lead singer and resident minor-celebrity Bradford Cox is a lanky, humorous, effeminate, outspoken, blog-addicted, songwriting machine. Besides his well-received output with Deerhunter (including the much hyped Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey EP), he has pumped out loads of stuff under his own Atlas Sound moniker, including the material released on last year’s Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, and the musical treats he consistently posts on his increasing popular blog. To say homeboy is busy is quite the understatement, and it seems as if Cox’s entire being is completely obsessed with the idea of ingesting, composing, and then releasing music.
So it’s no surprise that Cox became irate when he mistakenly allowed Microcastle to leak last August, which caused him to post a raging assault on his blog, calling whoever downloaded and shared the music “fucked” and pondering how he can’t understand how they could go on living (it has since been taken down, though you can read his apology here). Strong words, sure, but can you blame the guy? Anybody who has been paying attention to Deerhunter’s trajectory knows that Cox is as passionate as they come about making music.
Thankfully, Microcastle has been officially released, and the passion that Cox and the rest of Deerhunter have for their craft has been fabulously injected into the album’s very core. Tingling with shoegaze-y sentiments, awash with 60s-pop shimmer, ripe with moments of indie-pop magic, and much more direct and accessible than Cryptograms, Microcastle sounds and feels like the kind of experience that the hype surrounding the band sometimes failed to actually merit. In other words, Microcastle actually delivers the goods through and through, instead of simply hinting at greatness in the ways that Crypto-jams like “Strange Lights” and “Hazel St.” did. Cox always has always talked the talk, but Microcastle actually walks it as well.
On opener “Cover Me,” the band get to walking the walk right away, with a blast of down-tempo beats and big, open chords that echo the kind of impact of some of Ride’s best work, as well as remind us of Detroit’s very own Javelins at times. Rising from the intro’s ashes, “Agoraphobia” — sung by guitarist Lockett Pundt — recounts a story of being buried alive amongst gentle, ringing guitar lines and understated, tempered drums. “Never Stops” picks up the pace a bit, with one of Cox’s strongest melodies mingling with rim-shot drumming and swirling guitar squalls that recall, of course, My Bloody Valentine. “Little Kids” capitalizes on impressive use of Motown-inspired influences, with reverberated guitar lines sitting alongside xylophone pings that bring to mind the Crystal’s “Then He Kissed Me”. “Microcastle” signifies the beginning of a four-song suite that is placed in the center of the album; one that includes the ghostly “Calvary Scars,” the Eno-esque collage of “Green Jacket,” and the wind-chimey “Activa.” It’s a bit much to get through, but once you do, “Nothing Ever Happened” rewards you with it’s immediate bassline, spiky post-punk guitar parts, and one of the most addictive song outros you’ll hear all year. With that, the album finishes strong, with the bluesy, Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque “Saved By Old Times,” the hazy, wobbling “Neither Of Us, Uncertainly,” and the restrained beginning, turned violent climax of “Twilight At Carbon Lake.”
To call the album mature is simply too easy; and mature is often times a secret code word for boring — something Microcastle hardly is. Instead, we’ll go with “advanced,” as Mircocastle seems to be the next logical step for a band that has all the right moves, but occassionally slipped up in their attempts to make them. Hype, blogs, premature leaks, physical strangeness, sexual orientation, influences, multiple covers, and outrageous rants aside, with Microcastle, Deerhunter has finally followed through in giving people something substantial to talk about — how fucking great they are. — Ryan Allen