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20 May 2012

Deerhunter - 'Cryptograms/Fluorescent Grey' (Kranky)

Somehow Deerhunter have crept into my life and become this powerful, meaningful band - the kind of rich n' deep artistes that fulfill almost everything I'm looking for in music (but struggle to continually find as I get older). Big words I guess, but I mean them -- there hasn't been an indie/rock artist that I've connected to this much in years. My love affair really began with Microcastle, but Cryptograms, the predecessor, is also fantastic. It's a strangely structured album, and this 2xLP reissue spreads it awkwardly over three sides, making it even harder for me to view it through the traditional bipartite rock album lens. Deerhunter would have never belonged on Kranky during their early Labradford/Bowery Electric/Tomorrowland days, but in recent years the label has embraced more song-based efforts and this record's pretty much a perfect fit. Bradford Cox began his ascent into the pantheon of great contemporary songwriters here, but it was a sneaky climb. Some of the catchiest songs on Cryptograms are crammed into the back, like 'Strange Lights' and 'Haze St.' - the former could have been a bright, brassy college radio hit, at least in my college days. In terms of album sequence,  Deerhunter here continually shift between the songs and the more ambient workouts, of which 'White Ink' and 'Red Ink' are the centerpieces. The most brilliant thing about Deerhunter is not this dichotomy though, nor the moments of integration when the sound exploration is built around a strong song (such as the dazzling title track, or the thunderous 'Octet'); the brilliance is in Cox's songwriting, which attains some of the most true melancholy I've ever listened to, but in a subtle way. Emotionally, Cryptograms doesn't jump out at me as much as the later records, but I haven't really invested myself in this album as much as the subsequent two. I know that any investment will pay off as it has for Microcastle and Halcyon Digest - this is a band in a brilliant run of music right now and I don't know where it's going to end. Cryptograms is building up to this wave, but not quite there yet. However, this lovely gatefold release is packaged with the Fluorescent Grey EP, and this is precisely the moment where the brilliant run begins. These four songs are about as perfect as things get, Deerhunter's Watery, Domestic. I really do think of Deerhunter like Pavement because I think Cox might be my favourite songwriter since them, and there seems to be as much depth, to me, in these songs, as in Malkmus's 'Greenlander' or 'Home'. The title track of the EP is where the creep factor begins - it's an exploration of death and obsession, lyrics almost perfectly underwritten, and it's just a great achievement. 'Dr. Glass' sets down a misleading groove with a fun woodblock/handclap accent, though it's about useless bodies. And this is what I love again - the subtle darkness, disguised by a flamboyant, psychedelic colour, yet it's not exactly like other psych music. 'Wash Off' is among my favourite Deerhunter songs too, and an excellent way to end (more so than 'Heatherwood' ends Cryptograms, which seems to demand a nonexistent coda). It's sharp and smooth at the same time, twisting around with wicked caresses. "I was sixteen" is the refrain, the counterpoint to "You were my god/in high school", making this EP really about adolescence, which of course rhymes with fluorescence. So fucking good. Please keep it coming.

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