Monday, December 16, 2013

Year End Album Reviews # 2

Monomania by Deerhunter

4AD, 2013

I remember reading an interview with Paul Westerberg back when Pleased to Meet Me first came out, and the tour (a stop on which I thankfully caught) had just begun. In it, he seemed worried, or at least felt responsible, for anyone who dug the hell out of "Can't Hardly Wait." The album-closing tune was a string-drenched piece of shameless pop, and about as atypical to the band's sloppy roots-hardcore as anything they ever made.

Westerberg said something like, well, any fans who wanna come out to our show because they just love "Can't Hardly Wait" might just end up disappointed. In fact, he said, they might just wanna skip our gig entirely.

It was as close as you're gonna come to having an artist actually disown a song. "Can't Hardly Wait" wasn't representative, he seemed to be saying; don't get the wrong idea. This isn't who The Replacements are.

Not that Bradford Cox or Moises Archuleta or any of the rest of them are doing any disowning, but Westerberg's words came to mind while I was listening to "Pensacola," from Deerhunter's latest, and sloppiest, LP. It's funny that in a year which brought us Milk Music's Cruise Your Illusion, an album that channels Neil Young & Crazy Horse pretty freely, Deerhunter's "Pensacola" would end up being the best Tonight's The Night outtake of the year. Ramshackle, alcohol-soaked, and imbued with the kind of loss that empties you out and sends you packing, "Pensacola" is the best and most atypical track on Monomania.

And I do wonder whether anybody listening to the track might get the wrong idea of Deerhunter.

When Deerhunter were newer, and Cryptograms or Microcastle was their latest, the band was fond of calling themselves "ambient punk." Wonderful, almost oxymoronic phrase, and if not literally accurate, very good at conjuring the oppositional nature of the band's work. The band is almost always skinnydipping in the dreampop sea, and jangly guitars that recall this other band from Georgia of whom you may have heard are common with them, but the title track to Cryptograms has an electronica pulse; "Vox Celeste" from Weird Era shocks the dreampop severely enough to be called shoegaze. There's always been plenty of static and experimental found sounds

But "Pensacola"--and since we're talking about it, "Leather Jacket II"--stretch Deerhunter further than they've ever been stretched. Previous noise excursions notwithstanding, they've never played with more abandon than on these two songs, or with a more devil-may-care sloppiness.

Some of this may be me. I like dreampop, and I like Deerhunter, but I probably like sloppy rawk and roll even more. Witness the two bands I took care to mention by name in this post already. So maybe I'm trying to recast the band more than they themselves are. To maybe deconstruct a little, "Sleepwalking," the eighth track on Monomania would have felt at home on Microcastle. Perhaps attempts here and elsewhere to present Deerhunter as newly reshaped into an American Band* overreach. Certainly I haven't spent enough time here talking about the songwriting, which is exemplary even on songs that don't out-and-out rawk so much, like on the irresistable "Dream Captain," like on the gorgeous "THM," and like on the quirky, freaky "Blue Agent."

Because whatever you might be into, whether it's speedmetal, or prog, or indie, or hardcore, it's always about songwriting. Yes, I'm pretty sure "Pensacola" is a landmark track for this band. But Monomania is a good record for the same reason that other Deerhunter efforts have been: the songwriting is for the most part ace.

Four Stars.

File Under: Ambient Punk No More?

*Yes, that was a Grand Funk reference. (Return)

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