Sunday, December 11, 2011

Atlas Sound- Parallax

Though the album begins with the ringing sound of feedback, Parallax is actually the most accessible and pop oriented release of Bradford Cox's career. However, this doesn't mean it's an easy or mainstream record; it's all a matter of degrees. After all, the last Deerhunter album was the most accessible and pop oriented thing that group has released to date but it's still weirder and more experimental than anything you'd hear on modern rock radio. In the same way, Parallax may lack the abrasive/off-putting elements of Cox's past work but it still manages to be a meaty and eccentric record, moving from classic rock/retro influenced pop songs to dreamy/spacey daydreams with surprising ease and coherency.

As de-facto leader of Deerhunter and solo artist under the Atlas Sound moniker, Cox has quietly become one of the finest songwriters of his generation. A track like 'Angel Is Broken' would be the clear highlight of most other artists' careers but it wouldn't even make my top ten favorites by him. While even I still primarily think of him as the guy who uses lots of effects pedals and always has a druggy bent to his music, the reality is that underneath all that adornment, his songs (at least most of them) boast memorable hooks and affecting lyrics. True, like all of Atlas Sound's recordings, Parallax sounds best on a pair of headphones but this doesn't stop it from also being an album that sounds great in the car or on a stereo. 'Te Amo' is packed with detailed touches that are lost without said headphone listening though it still sports a strong enough hook to trap you on first listen when heard out loud.

After I was left a little cold by Logos, I began to wonder if Cox would continue getting more—for lack of a better term—accessible in his two projects. And I don't mean “accessible” in a good way. True, the main failing of Logos was its lack of focus and the spotlight stealing guests, but it also didn't help that the songs were sometimes too stripped down for their own good. It gave one the impression Cox still wasn't sure what the Atlas Sound project would be. I began to think of it as his tinkering space for where he wanted to take Deerhunter. Parallax, then, represents both a return to spacier/dreamier pastures as well as finally nailing down why Atlas Sound was a separate affair from Deerhunter.

Whereas Deerhunter is more about a full rock band approach, stopping off to try out shoegazer, garage rock, and psych-pop, Atlas Sound as codified on Parallax toes the line between full band, retro influenced pop/rock songs like the title track and 'Mona Lisa' and the staying-in-bed-and-spending-the-day-alone spacey ambient/pop of Atlas Sound's first album. Not that they're always separated. It effectively mixes the two styles, too: the aforementioned 'Te Amo' may be one of the poppiest tracks but there's also all sorts of little flourishes and electronic sounds in the background.

Indeed, the last half of Parallax spends more time drifting off into the ether than it does rocking out, giving the record a sense of progression that makes it a more cohesive listen than the scattershot Logos. The two part finale, 'Quark', is actually more experimental than anything on even Let The Blind Lead Those Who See But Cannot Feel, the first part a seven minute collage of clattering percussion, spacey looped sounds, and, near the end, some pretty xylophone lines. The shorter second part, meanwhile, blooms beautifully with the sort of bright, gleaming acoustic guitar loops he often uses when playing live as Atlas Sound (check out this performance to see what I mean).

Parallax isn't as special to me as the first album yet I would say that it's a more complete album, succeeding where Logos nearly-failed despite having a wider variety of sounds. It's tempting to call it his most accomplished work to date, but perhaps a better way to think of it is that it's his most finessed and committed work to date. If Atlas Sound always sounded like a sideproject with songs leftover from Deerhunter recording sessions, made on a whim alone by Cox, this should be the record that proves he is putting his all into Atlas Sound, too.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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