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Album Review: Deerhunter "Monomania"

12 years ago, Deerhunter, the garage-rock five-piece with a revolving-door playing roster, started in Atlanta, Georgia with vocalist Bradford Cox and drummer Moses Archuleta. Six albums later, the band is back with Monomania (defined: obsession/preoccupation with one thing), and it’s obvious they are really only focused on one thing: noise, followed by the absence of it.

Monomania needs to tread a fine line to sound acceptable in 2013. For starters, Cox, Archuleta and co aren’t teenagers anymore – Deerhunter have been a unit (if you can call it that) for more than a decade and there’s only so much one can play dirge-filled guitar rock before youthful rebellion becomes tired and repetitive. Fortunately, the quintet pull something mildly special out of the hunting bag for this album, with a nice selection of electronic sounds and atmospheric arrangements creating an interesting pallet for the band to meander through their cute songs that range from the quaint to the downright messy.

Recorded in Rare Book Room Studios in Brooklyn, the style is indeed lo-fi oriented, with moderate to heavy distortion on Cox’s vocals, backed with crisp, clean guitar lines. This sometimes works in their favour – “T.H.M.” offers both these elements, with the vocal lines perfectly complementing Lockett Pundt’s guitar work in a catchy and irreverent way. Other times, it can sound exceptionally dull – Cox’s poor impression of Julian Casablanca doesn’t cut it on the mediocre “Blue Agent” and irritation starts to set in on the catchy placebo “Pensacola”. And on other occasions this is just fucking annoying, such as the disgraceful mess “Leather Jacket II”, which is an aimless exercise in repetitive riffing and echoing vocals. There is no discernible point to this – its just noise for noise’s sake, and that doesn’t cut it.

In actual fact, it is the second half of Monomania that contains the most gems, and they succeed due to some dynamic control and infectious hooks from Pundt, Cox and other guitarist Frankie Broyles. Some are wonderfully quiet pieces  that rely on deep listening, such as the beautiful break-up tune “Sleepwalking” and the dead-silent “Nitebike” show that Cox’s voice can sound fragile as well as bratty. There are also charming indie-rock items of notable value, where the whole band lift around the hooks of “Dream Captain” and opener “Neon Junkyard”. However, it is the title track that shows what Deerhunter can do with noise. Rather than aimless and tiresome, “Monomania” is like its namesake in its repetitive and exciting build-up of static and distortion – an aesthetic that is not unlike Brian Epstein for style and provides a nice capper on a very respectable outing for the quintet.

The moment Deerhunter’s sludgy guitar-driven garage music becomes tiresome rather than titillating; they should call it a day. However, that day has not yet arrived with the release of Monomania. A move away from purely smash-and-go 1D indie rock would be prudent for this rapidly aging band, with the tightly-woven and more dynamically-controlled pieces showing more traction to the ear. If there is more of that, Deerhunter still have many years to come.

Thomas Gillespie - AAA Backstage

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