Atlas Sound - Parallax
Record Label: 4AD
Release Date: November 8, 2011
Bradford Cox has been a polarizing figure at times, but nobody can accuse him of being lazy. Beginning in 2007, he has approached a Ryan Adams-level of prolificity, officially releasing 6 LPs and 2 EPs of material between his day job of fronting Deerhunter and his solo work as Atlas Sound. This doesn't including the entire bonus CD of material that Deerhunter released alongside Microcastle or the countless songs he's released at his blog: Earlier this year, Cox dumped nearly fifty song's worth of material online over the course of a week in the form of his Bedroom Databank collections. Some of these were more fully fleshed out demos than others, but the fact still remains that he threw away more music and ideas on his website than some bands record in their entire careers.
The latest gift of Cox's endless labor is Parallax, his third official solo LP. The cover artwork (a close-up portrait of himself sporting a haircut that wouldn't seem out of place in a Sun Records promo circa 1960) sets a precedent for the music that accompanies it: Bradford has embraced the concept of "singer-songwriter" in the historical sense. This isn't to say that he's abandoned his electronic experimentation in the slightest, but the bleeps and bloops that were prevalent on both Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel and Logos have been relegated to a more co-starring role as the once introverted frontman finally begins to find confidence in his vocals and lyrics.
Anybody who has had the pleasure of seeing Deerhunter live over the past few years has seen how much more upfront Cox has become with his delivery. He no longer hides his voice behind a myriad of effects. The results have been substantial, as Deerhunter has evolved into one of the most tightly wound live shows around. On any given day, they seem just as likely to play a song straight through as they are to drag it out into a ten minute marathon of feedback and noise that would make any Sonic Youth fan crack a smile.
This is the same confidence that makes Parallax the most cohesive and accessible Atlas Sound release yet. While Let the Blind... was the sound of Bradford finding his identity as a solo performer and Logos seemed like a recorded homage to his heroes at times (he's stated that "Walkabout" and "Quick Canal" were influenced by Panda Bear and Stereolab and just happened to feature Noah Lennox and Laetitia Sadler on vocals, respectively), Parallax sounds like one solid chunk of music instead of a collection of singles. Listening straight through is infinitely more satisfying than trying to pick one song to add to an iTunes mix. This may be attributed to the intelligent pacing of the album. Just when a slow-burner like "Modern Aquatic Nightsongs" seems like it is droning on too long, it gives way to a more upbeat recording like "Mona Lisa."
To say that the album is cohesive isn't to say it is repetitive. There are a few songs here that will recall the spaced-out strumming of Kurt Vile and, by extension, Neil Young, but mixed in are a good variety of songs that deviate from the mean. "Angel is Broken" would be the best song Interpol's written since Antics if Cox didn't write it first. With a few extra harmonies, "Mona Lisa" wouldn't seem out of place during the 60's British Invasion, the vocal and guitar hooks are there. I had to double check to make sure "Amplifiers" wasn't a Velvet Underground cover. "Te Amo" sounds like it could be the framework for a song waiting to be fleshed out with the full-band treatment by Deerhunter.
This brings me to the few complaints I have with the LP. The aforementioned "Te Amo" begins startlingly similar to "Helicopter" off of Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest, and while it's a well written track, it doesn't quite fit the mood of the rest the songs present. The aptly name "Doldrums" drags the recording to a near-stop about halfway through, and threatens to kill all the momentum leading into it. "Quark Part 1" sees Cox falling into an old habit of tinkering around with electronics a bit too long, though "Quark Part 2" is much more abbreviated and serves as a succinct conclusion at the end of the album.
These few minor grievances aside, Parallax is one of the best albums I've had the pleasure of hearing all year. It's a rare recording that can catch a listener's ear immediately, yet still reward patience and repeated listens. It's the sound of Bradford Cox taking all of the influences that he used to wear on his sleeve and combining them with his own personality to create something that is truly his own. I, for one, can't wait to see where he goes from here.