Monday, November 7, 2011

review- atlas sound- 'parallax'

Upon the release of Deerhunter's 'Halcyon Digest' the first thing I noticed when I put it on was how much 'Earthquake' sounded like it could've been an Atlas Sound song. During most of the record I found several other examples- 'Sailing,' 'Helicopter,' even something like 'Basement Scene.' While putting 'Parallax' on for the first time I had a similar feeling about a few tracks- several of them wouldn't be the slightest bit out of place on a Deerhunter record. 'Angel is Broken' moves forward with a driving, immediate urgency similar to much of what can be heard on 'Microcastle.' 'Parallax' is Bradford Cox's most wide-eyed and lucid work as Atlas Sound to date. A few of the songs sound radio-ready (this is not meant as an insult just to be clear). It fulfills the promise of many of the acoustic-based tracks in the four-volume 'Bedroom Databank' series that Cox released through his blog last year. 'Mona Lisa' from volume three makes an appearance here in a nicely fleshed-out form. On 2009's 'Logos' it seemed like Cox had taken his undeniable gift for hazy, spaced-out, atmospheric songs to the limit. Here, much of the sleepy-eyed feel has been shaken off in favor of some very crisp and clear production. This is Atlas Sound's 'Microcastle'- an appropriate parallel as both records were made at Brooklyn's Rare Book Room.

Dedicated to Trish Keenan (the singer of the Broadcast who passed away tragically and very suddenly within the first two weeks of this year, their last American tour having been opening for Atlas Sound in 2009) and with a cover that immediately struck me as an homage to Jeff Buckley's 'Grace' cover, a great deal of the music has a very classic feel to it- deliberately staking its own place in a vast continuum of music. The title track has sonic nods to 60's music similar to 'Weird Era Continued's 'Vox Humana' and 'Terra Incognita' has some acoustic plucking that reminds me of mid-70's Neil Young as well as an uplifting, anthemic chorus. The aforementioned 'Mona Lisa' is clean, shiny and driving and sounds radio ready. Then there is the woozy and beautiful 'Doldrums' where Cox takes his gauzy piano playing and feeds it through a maze of looping delay pedals over a backdrop of leaden, watery drums. Even on the trippier tracks there isn't much in the way of reverb and a great deal of the ambience on the record is the result of room sounds lending it a dry, hospital-room feel similar to Spiritualized's 'Songs in A&E.' The second side is dominated by the more ambient and dreamier songs with a few exceptions- namely 'Angel is Broken' and the upbeat, sunny closing track 'Lightworks.'

It's surprising to me how long it's taken for me to start paying attention to Atlas Sound considering how much I've always loved Deerhunter as it seems to me the two have such a yin/yang relationship. It's similar to the interplay between Nick Cave's work with the Bad Seeds and Grinderman over the past six years only on a more frequent scale. 'Let the Blind Lead those Who Can See but Cannot Feel' has a heavily electronic feel where 'Cryptograms' has more of a guitar-based take on ambient rock, 'Logos' favors hazy dreaminess where 'Microcastle' favors clean production and sharp, clear song structures. Such is the case between 'Parallax' and 'Halcyon Digest.' I only had to listen to 'Parallax' once to get a good feel for it, whereas 'Halcyon Digest' took me three listens to warm up to. This Atlas Sound/Deerhunter call and response can go on forever and bleed together as often as possible- especially if the results prove to be this consistently stunning.

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