Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox crisscrosses the latitudes and longitudes of waking and dreaming world in his solo project as Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel.It’s the off-season for Deerhunter right now, following guitarist Colin Mee’s abrupt departure and return last autumn, with the entire band currently on hiatus. Cox has used that as license to push his music further, under the solo moniker ‘Atlas Sound’ (taken from the company that made his first-ever tape deck). Never one to lack in ambition, he reached out into the stratosphere of his mind for the echoing, haunting, and, above all, enveloping Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel.
The album begins with a little sonic ‘found art’ in “Ghost Story”, a fuzzy audio clip of a child telling a tale about a ghost named ‘Charlie’, which turns into echoing effects. Echoes and reverb bounce off the walls of Cox’s skull throughout Let the Blind, as he brings up dreams and memories. The haunting, beautiful echoes and fuzz of the following “Recent Bedroom” tell the tale of his aunt’s death, and how it made clear to him that growing up involved growing cold.
The tragedies of childhood also haunt this record, from the cover art through “Ghost” and “Bedroom” and on into “River Card”, a small, melodic piece about the story of Puerto Rican boy who fell in love with the boy he saw looking back at him from the bottom of the river; the story ends with the boy jumping in to reach the ‘other boy’ and drowning. “River” keeps that atmosphere, cute, but not twee. “Quarantined” goes even darker in subject matter, about Russian children born with AIDS, but the piece is curiously perhaps a bit too twinkling in its keys. Cox, who suffers from Marfan Syndrome, has said that he spent a lot of time in hospitals as a child, which undoubtedly colored his view of one’s first years.
But things are not all downbeat. Following the middling ‘difficulty meeting people’ reverb of “On Guard” comes the expansive snowfall of sound in “Winter Vacation”, whose high, brightening tones draw their inspiration from Cox’s memories of the first time he meet best friend (and current Deerhunter guitarist), Lockett Pundt. Pundt provided the guitar loop that formed the basis of the following “Cold As Ice”, an even more effective and engrossing number.
This highly personal record lets Cox experiment with his sound. “Scraping Past”, another Pundt-subjected piece, is more of a straight-up electronic jaunt, but a strong one. Cox uses echoing pianos and an aural envelope to simulate depression on “Small Horror”. “Ready, Set, Glow” is a glowing feedback instrumental. Cox delves deeper into his sometimes difficult childhood on “Bite Marks”, but the strong bass line could stand in for Cox’s own strengthening backbone.
After the repeated techno-air-tronic beats and effects of “After Class” comes maybe Let the Blind’s strongest piece, “Ativan”. Cox uses his relationship with the drug as a parable for his with Pundt, the difficulty and scariness of change, but the smooth-sounding groove, and just enough echoing, reassures the listener on this catchy, winning song. And the record ends on the track of the same name, a beautiful, echoing finisher.
The next full Deerhunter album, Microcastle, comes out later in 2008, and Bradford Cox could have easily used his in-between time as Atlas Sound to just throw together some demos and whatever else was on the top of his head or in his attic. Instead, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel is almost unbelievably affecting and engrossing, taking you through his world of thought and world of sound.