The centerpiece of Deerhunter's 2010 masterwork Halcyon Digest was "Desire Lines," a titanic seven-minute slab of friendly psych-rock that devolved into a swirling maelstrom of guitar figures. The architect of "Desire Lines" wasn't lead songwriter/provocateur Bradford Cox, but instead guitarist Lockett Pundt, the Scottie Pippen to Cox's Michael Jordan, who records under the moniker Lotus Plaza. Pundt's 2009 debut full-length, The Floodlight Collective, was a tentative first step into a lead role, an amalgamation of shoegaze, shimmering ambient textures, and guitar and vocals obscured by a thick haze. Spooky Action at a Distance, his sophomore offering, is poised to become a breakout moment for Pundt, a confident, self-assured exploration of guitar pop that improves on The Floodlight Collective in every regard and marks Pundt as another talent to watch within the confines of Deerhunter.
The short, untitled introduction to the album is a red herring, a brief return to the formless soundscapes of The Floodlight Collective. This lasts for all of ninety seconds before Pundt bursts into focus with "Strangers," the album's lead single and first proper cut, a simple marriage of melody and propulsion tonally reminiscent of the aforementioned "Desire Lines." After "Strangers" slows to a relative crawl, Pundt is off and running: the first half of Spooky Action at a Distance delivers slice after slice of short-form guitar pop, differentiated by varying proportions of sweetness and noise. There isn't a dud in the bunch, though the surprising tenderness and confident vocals of "Dusty Rhodes" and the bleeding-edge riffs of "White Galactic One" are particular highlights.
But if Spooky Action at a Distance's first half is a straightforward distillation of Pundt's ability to craft noisy, hook-stuffed jams with easily palatable length, then its astonishing second half reveals his penchant for tinkering with form, repetition, layering, and erosion. The result is a handful of songs that feel uniquely his, balancing gorgeous fretwork and adventurous sonic maneuvers, with that balance rapidly becoming a personal signature. "Jet Out of the Tundra" rises in the delicate manner of a soufflé and flies into a lovely holding pattern for its first four minutes before Pundt begins to explore its disintegration, culminating in an assault by waves of thick noise that leave a single piano standing. "Eveningness" and "Remember Our Days" are twins in all but name, glittering five-minute demonstrations of the potential of intricate layering bundled with tender lyrical sentiments. Finally, "Black Buzz" constitutes the album's meditative finale, ending Spooky Action at a Distance with a solid minute of measured decay.
With Spooky Action at a Distance, Pundt proves he can walk the tightrope between listener-friendly anthems and cerebral digressions into edgier terrain with aplomb. It's a record born to soundtrack summer nights spent stargazing or wandering through a park, and it's recommended listening.