Deerhunter – Cryptograms / 2007

Released – January 29th, 2007

I pride (there’s a word I don’t use often) myself on the inane ability to stare blankly at things for long periods of time. Once, I even glared at the pattern on my bed sheets for 40 minutes. Naturally, I do my best staring when more important things need to be done (like writing a review). Upon first seeing the Magic Eye-like album art for Cryptograms, I knew I was in for a treat (well, I realized this after 20 minutes of useless glances). Much like the music, the artwork moves, wiggles and keeps you entranced for quite a while. The problem, of course, is that with music, you look to be engaged. It is much too easy to get lost in the throbbing bass lines, strange sounds and (oddly) enchanting vocals of Deerhunter.

Cryptograms has two very distinct halves. The first part is much more abstract, featuring many instrumental tracks full of distortion and eerie noises. The second part is catchy, has more singing and might have you bobbing your head (without blinking, of course). The difference in these halves could be attributed to the fact that they were recorded months apart from each other. I would like to know what happened in those months off from recording (new hairstyles), because the second half of the album greatly outshines the first.

A 3-minute intro track beginning with the noises of a swamp (complete with running water, frogs, etc.) that meanders into a synthesizer effect closely related to a fire alarm is not the greatest way to open an album. “Cryptograms” is a bass driven track (this theme repeats) with some of the loudest vocals on the entire album. Vocalist Bradford Cox is very good at integrating his voice into songs as nothing more than a background instrument. He can repeat some phrases over and over to mimic the sound of a short, (very) whiny riff. “Lake Somerset”, the first half’s strongest track, features heavily (almost absurdly) distorted vocals and a pounding, low bass line. The guitars are sparse, high-pitched accompaniments to the madness all around. Deerhunter do not write simple songs. They could best be described as “indie rock with an agenda.” If their agenda is making the bass a valuable instrument again, they have succeeded.

One big problem with Deerhunter (with the exception of “Strange Light” and “Hazel St.”) is that you can’t understand the vocals easily. With a metal or hardcore (or Fall Out Boy release), I would let this slide. However when there are intelligent lyrics to be interpreted, I would like Cox to meet me halfway (over coffee, maybe?). The album ends with the strongest song thus far, “Heatherwood”. A bit poppier with more melodic vocals, this is the most accessible song on Cryptograms. “Heatherwood” grabs your attention more forcefully than other tracks and will hopefully be the groundwork for future Deerhunter songs.

Cryptograms could be more cohesive. The two parts of the album fight for dominance throughout. Should they stick to an artsy take on post-rock? Or should they keep with the intelligent, eclectic, vocally driven songs? My answer is clear, stick with the singing and melodies. We all have phases that bring on regret; I tried to be a trapeze artist years back (tights do not flatter my pear-shaped figure). Deerhunter appears to be at a crossroads, and in this case, I wish them to take the road more-traveled.

Track Listing
1. Intro
2. Cryptograms
3. White Ink
4. Lake Somerset
5. Providence
6. Octet
7. Red Ink
8. Spring Hall Convert
9. Strange Lights
10. Hazel St
11. Tape Hiss Orchid
12. Heatherwood

 

Spring Hall Convert

 

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