I’m not really sure I’m even ready to write about ‘Halcyon Digest’ yet. At the same time, I feel compelled to write about it obsessively. I think that actually says quite a bit about the kind of band Deerhunter is and the kind of album ‘Halcyon Digest’ is.

Deerhunter makes music that is simultaneously reminiscent of days of alternative music’s past and prescient of what the future has in store. Even the way they present themselves suggests an indebtedness to indie rock’s underground past while embracing the advantages of modern technology. For instance, when ‘Halcyon Digest’ was announced, the band encouraged fans to print up a flyer from their website and post it in interesting places and then send pics of the flyers to the band. Deerhunter’s leader Bradford Cox regularly uploads “mixtapes” that are free to download on the band’s blog. (An entire blog entry could actually be devoted just to Deerhunter’s blog so please don’t get me started on that!)

For all intents and purposes, Deerhunter SHOULD be considered among the most relevant bands in music. Unfortunately (for the music listening public) and fortunately (for those of us who are fans) they remain on the outskirts. Loved by critics, record store clerks and music bloggers yet totally unknown by the Lady Gaga worshipping public. Or for that matter even the U2 loving public. What’s odd is that listening to ‘Halcyon Digest’ especially when compared to the band’s earlier work, one will find some of the most exciting and LISTENABLE music you’ll ever hear. Deerhunter’s knowledge of the DNA of pop music is obvious. What makes it so vital, though, is that they infuse the familiar with the unfamiliar. Tweaking those elements that we all know by heart with just the right amount of invention that it sounds like something we’ve never heard before. Or at least never heard like THIS before. For instance, pushing a song that could very well have happily ended at the three or four-minute mark (Microcastle’s “Nothing Ever Happens” or this album’s “Desire Lines”) into a seven minute opus of guitar virtuosity not because they’re showing off most likely because they really, really loved making the dang thing.

Uhm, now where was I? Oh that’s right. Heh, for a minute there I lost myself (different band, Reg!) The reason I get so amped when listening to or even just thinking about Deerhunter is that their music evolves. Very often it does so WHILE you’re listening to it. More often than not, what you thought you may have heard the first time around with certain tracks sounds slightly different the next time through. This is because Cox and co. tend to add so many layers of sound into just about every track that it takes several listens to peel back most of the layers. Therein lies the key to what makes Deerhunter’s music click.

Halcyon Digest, and Deerhunter’s music in general rewards listening. I mean after all, that’s what music is for, right? You don’t just put this on in the background while you do other tasks, you put this on and listening to it immediately becomes the thing that you’re doing. Opening track “Earthquake” is a perfect example of the Deerhunter songwriting philosophy. Starting off very minimally with some acoustic guitar, an occasional drum “thwack” and Cox’s lonely vocals,  the song grows right before your very ears as layer upon layer of instrumentation and effects are weaved into the song’s structure. At its apex the track literally washes over you and it is my recommendation that you do not fight it. The album highlight is the single “Helicopter.” It’s the most beautiful song of Deerhunter’s career and possibly the most beautiful song I’ve heard all year (Beach House’s “Silver Soul” is still hangin’ in there.) Here is a link to the band’s website for the video as well as the story that inspired the song, or you can just check out the video below:

Taking this tragic tale of a Russian male prostitute and shaping it into this gorgeous ballad that perfectly captures the sadness, pain and disillusionment of its subject is the single greatest accomplishment of Deerhunter’s still relatively young existence. According to Thom Yorke, “Fake Plastic Trees” was the song in which he and Radiohead truly found their voice, I believe “Helicopter” is that moment for Deerhunter.

Thankfully, you — the listener — don’t have that much time to dwell on the weight of “Helicopter” because the band follows it up with a couple of outstanding up beat tracks, “Fountain Stairs” and the E Street Bandish “Coronado.” The highlight of “Coronado” is, well, it’s the employment of a saxophone. Yes, a saxophone. If you had told me a couple of years ago while I was repeatedly digesting Microcastles and Weird Era Cont. that Deerhunter would rock out with a saxophone on their next album I would have questioned your, and their, sanity. And yet. And yet…it works. Vocally Cox channels Lou Reed and Julian Casablancas on a rollicking bouncing track built around a couple of jazzy sax solos and ending with Cox and the sax dueling it out. It’s a totally unexpected treat but never for a second does it come across as a gimmick. I can’t even imagine what the track would sound like without it.

Halcyon Digest wraps up with the Jay Reatard tribute track, “He Would Have Laughed.” I’ll be honest I don’t really know much about Jay Reatard so I don’t know I don’t know how fitting a tribute it is. What IS interesting to me is the cliffhanger fashion in which the song ends. You would think that seven and a half minutes is long enough for a rock song yet Deerhunter make it seem like it’s not enough time by cutting the song abruptly. The metaphor is obvious without being heavy-handed.

Deerhunter, who with Microcastles made one of the most vital albums of the previous decade, have already put their stamp on the NEXT decade. Halcyon Digest is about memories lost, imagined or just plain forgotten. It is about the delicately selective nature of memory and how in this day and age of digital everything, it is vital that the memories we have are real. Days of future quickly become days of future past. We have the capacity to record every minute of our waking lives on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Flickr but what Deerhunter is trying to say is that we can never confuse these digitally constructed social outlets for the genuine experience of being human.

Advertisements