Even the casual observer had to know that Deerhunter were not going to be playing the jersey-wearing indie rockers for long. It’d only be a matter of time before they’d retreat from the clarity of Microcastle back behind the haze of Cryptograms, obscuring Bradford Cox’s songwriting underneath the group’s shimmering guitar tones. And so here comes Halcyon Digest, an album that trades the Sonic Youth-referencing rock for a difference-splitting haze-pop that showcases Deerhunter at their most fragile.
From the opening dulcet tones and drum-machine rattle of “Earthquake” through the regal “He Would Have Laughed,” this is a mellower Deerhunter. Apart from the fuzz ‘n’ bang of “Revival” and “Memory Boy” (and two other exceptions noted below) Halcyon Digest takes the watery tableaus Deerhunter introduced on Rainwater Cassette Exchange to their logical conclusion. Dripping riffs and synth figures permeate around the longing of “Sailing,” while Cox laments about not wanting to get old on the nostalgic “Basement Scene.” Cox’s quavering vocal approach has never been the number one thing to recommend Deerhunter by, but on album highlight “Helicopter,” he masterfully stretches his vocals to their breaking point, warbling “no one cares for me” with maximum emotional impact as the band lays down increasing lush, crystallized music in the background.
There are two notable concessions made to people that got into Deerhunter via “Nothing Ever Happened” rather than Turn It Up Faggot, though. “Desire Lines” is the first, and it’s a Dandy Warhols-esque psych-rock rave up written and sung by guitarist Lockett Pundt. The other is “Coronado,” a song that has only its low fidelity separating it from a Strokes single. It even has a horny saxophone line in there, which would be impossible to imagine on a Deerhunter album a year ago. It’s also Deerhunter’s most pop-friendly song ever, and it’s not hard to imagine it tearing the shit out of a movie trailer or a shoe commercial in the near future. These guys have needed a “Two Weeks” (or “My Girls,” or “Stillness Is the Move”) moment for a bit, and this one might do it.
And if it does, Deerhunter’s ascent up indiedom would be the most unlikely. After all, this was Deerhunter first got press for their otherworldy lead singer and his penchant for over-sharing on his blog and the band’s collective breakdowns during live shows. But as they’ve made it to their fourth album, they’ve quickly become one of indie’s most reliable bands, each new album bringing the promise of some of the year’s best music.
Since releasing the post-rock heavy Cryptograms in 2007, Deerhunter has steadily released material each year showcasing a band willing to evolve toward a more accessible, pop-orientated sound. Don’t be fooled, though. In their short stint with indie-rock fame, Bradford Cox and company have showcased very little urgency to comply with the norm or follow any sound previously established on earlier records. With another year comes another release: Halcyon Digest. Promoted off the hard work of their fan-base via old-school street-team flyering, the band’s fourth LP looks to build off the success of the well-received 2009 EP, Rainwater Cassette Exchange.