ALBUM REVIEW: Deerhunter – Monomania

Monomania artwork
Monomania artwork

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.36.33 AM

ARTIST Deerhunter

ALBUM Monomania

LABEL 4AD

RELEASE DATE 7.5.2013

9.6 | 10

If Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest (2010) did not put Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt in the conversation of this century’s best songwriters, their solo albums released the past two years certainly did. Bradford Cox released 2011’s fantastic Parallax as Atlas Sound, a gorgeous work which, song-for-song, was arguably one of the year’s best. Pundt’s Spooky Action At a Distance (2012) as Lotus Plaza further expanded his guitar skills while sharpening his melodies even further. Digest was one of 10’s instant classics, holding up just as strongly as that year’s other undeniable classics from LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. So when news broke earlier this year that Deerhunter was returning with a new album, the blogosphere justifiably had a mini freak out session. Fortunately for all parties concerned, Monomania is the next great Deerhunter album, following in the footsteps of Digest, 2008’s Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. and Cryptograms (2007).

Cox described the record as containing “nocturnal garage rock” tracks, and the album mirrors that description. The opening one-two punch of “Neon Junkyard” and “Leather Jacket II” makes for a jarring reintroduction to the band, altering the expectations of what a Deerhunter album should sound like. The objectively more pop sound of Digest, Parallax, and Distance is scraped away, as the first two tracks rip through with heavy guitars and extremely lo-fi vocals, pushed way to the back, especially on “Jacket.” “Junkyard” ends with wonderful effects reminiscent of The Moon and Antarctica era Modest Mouse. “Pensacola” plays up the band’s country-inspired sensibilities, the largest shift from the band’s previous music, and all the more rewarding for it, with the band even whipping out the steel guitar for good measure. “Dream Captain” immediately follows and is another example of the band sounding like they are having the time of their lives in the studio, with Cox unabashedly aping Freddie Mercury’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” couplet as he belts, “I’m just a poor boy from a poor family.” Whereas Mercury’s delivery made him a sympathetic character, Cox adds so much bite to the words they sound more like a giant “fuck you” to anyone who dare get in his way.

Monomania is a much more in-your-face record than the band’s generally more pulled back, restrained work, with Pixies, Pavement, and The Strokes serving as the most immediately recognizable sonic equivalents to the new sound. “Back to the Middle” acts as the perfect lead-in to the stunning title-track, with Cox’s most brash singing as he cuts straight to the point, belting “Back to the middle, that’s where love left me.” “Monomania,” the song, is the best of the self-identified “nocturnal garage” genre, as Cox furiously, and manically, repeats the title, “Mono-monomania, mono-monomania” ad nauseam for 2+ minutes. It’s a testament to the band, and Cox, that the refrain never wears out its welcome, as the building cacophony of guitars in the background fight with Cox for the spotlight, a truly thrilling and breathtaking moment.

The other highlights come in the form of the band’s more introspective work. “Nitebike” is a gorgeous ballad featuring solely acoustic guitar and Cox’s painstakingly gorgeous vocals, with a melody that gets sweeter with every listen. By song’s end you forget that there are only two instruments, albeit two very powerful instruments, providing such enormous sound. “T.H.M.” and closing track “Punk (La Vie Antérieure)” are two other highlights, as the latter begins with Cox’s ever-increasingly fantastic lyrics with him singing, “I tried to keep him straight, ever since the day he was born. He came out a little late. Maybe that’s where frustration’s born,” before becoming a warped version of Parallax’s “Mona Lisa.” “Punk” is yet another wonderful, autobiographical song with Cox sounding his most defiant and content.

Lockett Pundt’s contributions to Deerhunter records are always fantastic, with “Neither Of Us, Uncertainly,” and “Desire Lines” being two of the best songs in their whole discography. On Monomania, Pundt’s contribution is also one of the top tracks here. “The Missing,” features a wonderful guitar riff that nods to The Strokes, but with Pundt’s own special touch, and as the song hits its climax, it continues to roll along with no sign of stopping until it’s abrupt ending, just as you think it’s going to go on for another two or three minutes. And that’s where the beauty lies in this record; while it may have been easier in this case to have these songs sprawl out into five, six, or seven minute tracks, Cox, Pundt, drummer Moses Archuleta, guitarist Frankie Boyles, bassist Josh McKay and Microcastle producer Nicolas Vernhes show remarkable restraint and discipline in their ability to pack just as many powerful ideas in these condensed songs as on their previous albums.

Lyrically, Cox and company have ever been better. There are so many instances of brilliant songwriting, with perhaps the best couplet coming on the opening track. Halfway through the track, Cox matter-of-factly quips, “Everything is the same as it was, but now there’s nothing left to change.” That turns out to be an apt summary of Monomania, wherein the band’s strongest, most drastic artistic shift to date has left them with an album most similar to their work on Microcastle and Cryptograms. While those two albums were fantastic in their own right, they were the work of a band still finding their way and sound. Years later, on Monomania, they’ve refined their sound and created yet another masterpiece, arguably the crown jewel. It’s the work of a band that’s come to realize the truth in “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and doesn’t necessarily take that phrase to imply any sort of hopelessness, but rather that sometimes the greenest fields are the ones beneath our feet.

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