Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

As one of the more successful groups of the generation’s indie offspring, Deerhunter produce music that is often almost in contradiction to their lyrics; their music is soft, enchanting, sweet, feminine, and strangely confident. Their lyrics are paranoid, unstable, nostalgic, and unsure. There are about a million parallels one could levy at this kind of group dynamic, but I’ll stick to the obvious: Deerhunter are the Radiohead of this generation, sans technological absurdism. Although, as far as career paths go, they’re more like another slow-burner; the Flaming Lips.

See, they started off their career with some half-decent noise-pop much like how the Flaming Lips started their career with some decent, if not particularly interesting, psych-pop. However, where the Flaming Lips took the better part of two decades to culminate their sound in the brilliant The Soft Bulletin, Deerhunter did so over the course of about five years. Turn It Up Faggot is a total mess, Cryptograms is Faggot done right, and Microcastle is their pop gem and critical darling. So a little over two years since Microcastle and we have Halcyon Digest, an album that isn’t so much an improvement on the previous work as it is a continuation or a refinement.

Digest is an album of pop songs that vary from quick tempo singles (“Don’t Cry”, “Revival”, “Coronado”), slow-burn drifters (“Earthquake”, “Sailing”), and more experimental pieces that run the gambit between electronic ambiance to reverb-soaked dream pop (“Basement Scene”, “He Would Have Laughed”). The album is richly-detailed and is perfectly-paced, coming out-of-the-gate with the wandering beauty of an introduction, two quick-tempo stompers, and letting the midsection wander so that the end can culminate their sound. It’s a textbook sequence in the best way possible. It’s also basically the same cloth that they cut Microcastle from, but rather than sounding trodden-down, the familiar territory lends itself to a great deal of growth and exploration for the band to do.

For example, the longest song, “He Would Have Laughed” is two minutes longer than “Nothing Ever Happened”, the longest song on Microcastle. The two songs define both their albums and reveal the innate difference between Deerhunter circa 2008 and Deerhunter circa 2010: “Nothing Ever Happened” is all about forward momentum while “He Would Have Laughed” is all about exploration. The drums in “Nothing Ever Happened” propel the song forward with the same urgency Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth might use while the drums in “He Would Have Laughed” are slow, deliberate, and almost tribal. Cox and crew seem to be comfortable with themselves on Digest, willing to explore their feelings in less broad, immediate terms than they would have previously.

Digest plays upon familiar territory lyrically for Cox and company, but in much more vivid terms. In “Basement Scene”, Cox says as much: “I don’t want to get old/I don’t want to get old.” However, Cox seems to have grown out of his nostalgia worship a bit, for says not one minute later in the song “I wanna get old/I wanna get old.” The material stays the same but the intentions have changed; sure, he loves his youth, but Cox seems much more comfortable with the inevitability of his mortality. Microcastle featured songs like “Nothing Ever Happened”, “Agoraphobia”, and “Saved By Old Times”, where the strictest of lines were drawn: youth is sacred, the past will always be better than the future, and what has happened is valued over what will happen. On Digest, more consent has been paid to this rather defeating philosophy, though the songs are still woefully melancholic at times, with Cox moaning on “Helicopter” that “No one cares for me/I keep no company.” It’s important to highlight the difference between Microcastle and Digest not only because they are similar in many respects, but because Digest is focused on such minute growth over it’s predecessor, slowly and calmly becoming their best album to date.

While it lacks the singles strength and straight-forward nature of it’s predecessor, Halcyon Digest succeeds much in the same way Veckatimest succeeded last year for Grizzly Bear; sticking to your strengths while quietly improving everything else. Sure, Digest is a similar album to Microcastle in many respects, but with a boost in confidence, a keen eye for detail, and a new exploratory curiosity and a sharper ear for pop sensibilities, Digest becomes a terrific album with many strengths and a noticeable lack of flaws. It may not have the immediacy of many other indie albums, but like Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Halcyon Digest becomes an album that is only fully-realized with repeated, careful listens to hear every spectacular detail Deerhunter have nailed on this outing.

by Trevor “Memory Boy” Johnson

1 Comment

  1. 11/28/10: New Review « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest Review by Trevor Johnson LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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