DEERHUNTER – Microcastle (4AD)

January 8, 2009

Hang on, hang on, hang on.

I started to crush violently on Deerhunter when I first heard ‘Strange Lights’ on myspace.  This beautifully judged, emotional pop, with big, star-scraping waves of guitar and artfully yearning vocals, was of a higher songwriting and musical calibre than anything else new I’d heard in a long time.  Here was a young band with genuine artistic talent and feeling for music – that rarest of occurrences in this Myspace era.

So within weeks, I had started to develop a concept of Deerhunter as ‘the new REM’ – surely, I reasoned, a band with this much ability were set for not only a lengthy career taking in many worthwhile records and doubtless some blistering live shows (see you at the Deaf Institute in March…).  I trolled off to Piccadilly Records to buy ‘Microcastle’ / ‘Weird Era Continued’.  The guy behind the counter told me reverentially that this was a brilliant album.

I knew ‘Cryptograms’, a generally ambient record with occasional, thrilling shots of more direct material – that was the ‘destined for stardom’ album – ‘Microcastle‘ had to be the ‘they deliver’ album.

And half of it is simply outstanding.  What a start to a record – ‘Cover Me (Slowly)’, a woozy, slightly staggering, short sprawl of an introduction to the truly beautiful ‘Agoraphobia’ – a guitar piece so perfectly judged, so intelligently restrained, so evocative, that the vocal (its lovely opening ‘cover me’ refrain aside) is almost superfluous.  Stop blathering, Bradford Cox, just listen to your band!  They’re incredible!  Then ‘Never Stops’, in which Deerhunter insouciantly steal the thunder of a whole generation of tremolo-arm bending bands of a sensitive disposition.  It’s my judgement call – they’re the best of any of them.  Then ‘These Kids’, which is really interesting – cutely assembled, shuffling, restrained (again – the musicians in the group don’t feel the need to impose themselves on every second of every track.  This leaves space and helps the overall sound).  From these four tracks, you get a clear picture of a band who are bursting with ideas, steeped in tradition, conscious and intelligent art-rockers.

Then they rather spoil it.  From title track ‘Microcastle’ through to ‘Activa’, not a great deal happens.  Effect pedals are utilised, fringes obscure faces, vocals are whispered, that consciousness appears to have become a defensive self-consciousness, a shyness about their own pop sensibility.

Jesus, lads, you’ve got it, flaunt it….  thousands of bands would crucify their own manager for a song as good as ‘Agoraphobia’, or the boisterous ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, or the supremely graceful, lilting ‘Saved By Old Times’ (with which brace they wholly redeem the album).  Less of the softly softly minutes of piano tinkle / echo box, I entreat ye!

‘Nothing Ever Happens’ – damn.  It’s arguably the only derivative number on the LP, with a blammo verse / chorus pattern ripped straight from the Robert Pollard songbook, then a bridge that must appear in a Buzzcocks song.  But then it just rips into a closing instrumental part that is all Deerhunter and no one else.  Fine, fine stuff.

‘Twilight at Carbon Lake’ is the LP closer and perhaps predictably for a band of this ilk, it starts slowly, dripping with melancholy before utilising the gift of the deranged guitar overdub to swell the song into a strong, sad end.  you can hear the songwriting underneath it – they never ditch that.

Some bands are song bands and should just do that.  Some bands are musicality bands and should just do that.  Some bands want to be greedy and do it all.  I personally believe that Deerhunter should focus on songs and leave the shoescapes to less able writers.

This album is half-perfect.

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