Making Sense of Deerhunter

Deerhunter is one of those bands that I want to like more than I actually do like them. They make sprawling, noisy albums, the kind where the really good melodies float up from the murk and, if you blink, you miss them.  For me, that means I wade through 12 or 14 tracks on one of their albums and come away liking about half of them. With most bands, that would simply not be enough. But with Deerhunter, as with (yeah, I’ll admit it) Broken Social Scene (though not any of their sleep-inducing solo projects), I will always listen to their albums for that fistful of tracks that really please me.

Because those tracks are usually really great.

So for me, Deerhunter’s lastest effort, Microcastle is a real treat. Sure, the first track is a throw-away instrumental, but the rest of the album is actually fairly straightforward, Pink Floyd-infused pop.  Microcastle is, as I make my way through it once again, turning out to be a lot like last year’s offering from The Besnard Lakes – a massive, noisy, harmonic, and beautiful piece of work.

For people who were put off by Cryptograms, Deerhunter’s more-than-mildly schizophrenic debut, Microcastle might appear to be more like what you wanted from Cryptograms. It’s a 12 song album and I like more than half of it, which makes it a total win for me. That’s due in no small part to the more cohesive sound on this album.

You have to be willing to wait for bands like Deerhunter to grow on you and, while that’s less true of Microcastle than it was of Cryptograms, it’s still the case. It took me about five trips through the album to realize that I like a majority of the songs on it. Now, I realize that the national attention span is not that long nowadays and listening to an album from start to finish even once is rare; multiple trips for some people are unheard of. I’m not gonna wax curmudgeonly and blame it all on the I-Pod either; Apple (and makers of lesser known but infinitely better mp3 players) recognized this trend in our country and simple created a means of exploiting it. If you wanna pin the tale of No American Patience for Good Music on any one particular donkey, tack it firmly to The Radio. Somewhere along the line, The Radio started playing about twenty songs day, over and over again, until the songs became an anesthetic to the national soul. Singles became increasingly important (singles used to be a means of getting people to salivate over and then buy albums; now they’re a means of getting people to buy singles) and albums became sets of five singles surrounded by five really terrible songs. Yes, I’m generalizing here, but my rant holds for a large percentage of music these days. I offer as proof Blender‘s recent list of the hundred greatest American albums ever recorded which featured a greatest hits comp as it’s number one (Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, which tells you all you need to know about Blender‘s understanding of good music). And if you really think that the new double-disc Beyonce album is going to be a perfectly sequenced, articulate album from start to finish – all killer and no filler, as the enlightened refer to it – you might be suffering from some sort of debilitating head trauma. The internet, far from intensifying this problem, has served as a counterweight to it. Bands that might never be noticed otherwise are able to distribute their music online (in many various ways) and the public is able to find out about it by reading things like Bollocks! and some other, probably less shitty (sometimes more shitty) sites that do nothing but talk about great music.

Deerhunter makes pretty great music (thought I’d lost the thread there, didn’t ya?) and no, you’re not gonna hear it on Ryan Seacrest’s fucking countdown show, but for those who are willing to let it grow on ’em, it’s easy to find. As much as I bag on Pitchfork (and I will continue to do so), there’s plenty of music (most of which they hate) that I wouldn’t know about without them. There are bands that I wouldn’t know about without The Current, America’s best (and in my humble opinion, only) radio station. There are bands I wouldn’t know about if I didn’t have at least one friend who was as obsessed with music as I am.

So what about Microcastle? It’s a pop album, as much as Deerhunter is able to make one. The songs that aren’t that great (“Cover Me” and “Activa”) are brief and easy to ignore, while the great songs (“Agoraphobia,” “Never Stops,” “Microcastle,” “Nothing Ever Happened,” and “Saved By Old Times”- see the ratio there?) are really great and get better with every listen.  Microcastle is the sound of a band getting their shit together and is, I hope, I  prelude to even greater albums.


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