Who would have guessed that Deerhunter would have blown up? The Atlanta-born act may have a singular and engaging frontman in Bradford Cox (QRO solo live review), also of his own side-project, Atlas Sound (QRO live review), but his personality belies the band’s sound, a high electronic wash that seemed destined never to break out of its loyal following. Yet Deerhunter have broken out, first in 2008 with the much-lauded Microcastle (QRO review) and bonus disc Weird Era Cont. (QRO review). After a hiatus, they’re back with the much-anticipated Halcyon Digest, which steps away, at least to some degree, from the band’s signature sound, making it easier to Digest, but less special.
Microcastle was divided between the stronger high wash moments near the beginning and end, and the weaker, less wash middle. Halcyon takes bright pieces and puts them through the Deerhunter ‘filter’, to greater or lesser degree. The slow, expanding opener “Earthquake”, bigger, even catchier “Memory Boy”, and the tech-twinkle growth of “Helicopter” all feel like the Deerhunter you’re looking for on Halcyon – a brighter band, but still with their certain style. Yet other pieces just feel like ditties with a layer of wash above them, such as back-to-back “Don’t Cry” and “Revival”; “Basement Scene” doesn’t even have that much of a wash layer above it, reducing it to just a bright little ditty.
Deerhunter are capable of much more, but too often on Halcyon they seem to be playing it safe, or at least limiting themselves. The bright Deerhunter procession of “Fountain Stairs” is nice, but the band could have done more with it. The slow, almost alt-folk “Sailing”, with the sound of a babbling brook (or some sort of flowing water) feels like an Atlas Sound b-side. And the garage-strum beneath “Coronado” is about as interesting as most garage-strums (plus has an unnecessary saxophone – but is a saxophone ever really necessary?…).
Halcyon Digest is a nice, enjoyable album from a band that’s been more daring in the past. Certainly more accessible than past Deerhunter, but less revelatory.
MP3 Stream: “Memory Boy”