The early months of 2007 have provided such an unending stream of high-profile new releases that an unknown band getting any sort of hype is a fairly miraculous feat. The fact that Cryptograms, the Kranky debut from Atlanta’s Deerhunter released in February, should command so much attention while working with such an uncompromising sound is doubly impressive. That album was schizophrenic, lending time to murky ambient music as well as blistering punk, but the band’s follow-up EP further develops the hazy psychedelia of its predecessor’s second side. Recorded during the mixing process of that commanding second full-length, Fluorescent Grey sees the band pinpoint the strengths of its own evolving style. It’s more streamlined, cutting the expansive experimentation while still packing dark layers into pop-song containers.
The title track is among the best the band has yet produced. “Patiently, patiently,” Bradford Cox taunts, enunciating his consonants in a strange, almost aggressive manner as the track slowly builds to eruption. The imagery is dark and poetic (like a Lee Renaldo track from a Sonic Youth record) — a corpse’s pallor being “fluorescent grey” is a prime example of that. “Dr. Glass” keeps the macabre language coming, switching from “couples kissing” to “corpses rotting” in the same line while employing a perversely light singsong delivery. “Like New” is the shortest and prettiest offering; it’s shifting lyric of “be like you/ seems like new,” is simple to the point of Zen.
Closer “Wash Off” is the only one to channel the aggression that peppers Cryptograms‘ first half. Over a rumbling bass line and an undying, unchanging beat, Cox breathes deep and finds himself thinking of times past. Here, the loose narrative of tripping in the high school parking lot devolves into the repeated mantra, “I was sixteen, I was sixteen, I was sixteen.” This preoccupation with a teenage self pops up again and again in Cox’s lyric book, suggesting an unhealthy disconnect above and beyond wistful remembrance. It’s as if asserting the fact that he was at one point sixteen is the only redemption he can summon.
These recordings are pretty but spooked, haunted by the past and surprisingly matter of fact about the death and decay they find everywhere else. They might have to find some frayed corners of their nostalgic ideal if their music is going to keep this bleak outlook. The band’s future from here is likely to be brighter still.
“Wash Off” MP3