Deerhunter grow in different directions on their latest, Microcastle. The Atlanta-born band first came onto the scene in 2005 with the “Turn It Up Faggot” EP, introducing their high electronic wash and singer/guitarist Bradford Cox’s unabashed queer-persona. While Cox is still unabashed, Deerhunter’s music has definitely tended towards the electronica, through last year’s Cryptograms and Florescent Grey EP, then Cox’s side-project, Atlas Sound (QRO album review), earlier this year. And now Deerhunter has returned on Microcastle, with a variety that goes up and down.
The evolution of Cox in the past two years has paralleled with Deerhunter guitarist Colin Mee’s departure, return, and departure again (now replaced by Cox’s high school friend, Whitney Petty). All that has made Microcastle even more Cox-focused, yet that has actually brought the record to wander about more than previous Deerhunter releases. While it starts and ends with a high wash, in between comes a stripped and quiet middle. However, while the high wash is some of Deerhunter’s best yet, the middle sags a bit and feels unnecessary.
Like Cryptograms, Microcastle opens with a short instrumental intro, and Microcastle’s “Intro” is a fitting prelude to the best of what is to come. Of course, the best of the best comes immediately in “Agoraphobia”, whose high beauty is matched with pitch-perfect vocals from Cox. In many ways, Microcastle peaks early with those two, the twinkle-haunt beat/beauty of “Never Stops”, and the reverb plus almost alt-country guitar-strum of “Little Kids”.
It is with the title track that Microcastle’s centre starts to not hold. Really stripped and quiet, it feels too small, despite the big finish. And it’s followed up by three more short, small, and unnecessary tracks in the twinkling “Calvary Scars”, piano + vox “Green Jacket”, and stripped strum-haunt “Activa” (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Atlas Sound’s superior “Quarantined”).
Thankfully, Deerhunter’s ambition returns with “Nothing Ever Happened”, and this time with more guitars. While the blues/country guitar riff-walk is a step too prominent on the following “Saved By Old Times”, the slow, high expanse comes carrying once more with “These Hands”. And finisher “Twilight at Carbon Lake” is a quiet, beautiful epilogue that explodes into a grand climax.
Deerhunter’s high electronic wash isn’t for everyone, and Microcastle does nothing to change that. But it does stretch it to new heights, even if leaden down by a misplaced (but short) middle.