Bradford Cox’s work, whether through his band Deerhunter or his solo work as Atlas Sound, has always struck me as haunting. I like it, but my attraction to it almost feels creepy, not in a bad way, but in an otherworldly sense. Consequently I approached Halcyon Digest, the new album from Deerhunter that released today, with a little trepidation, lightly listening with as much objectivity as my anticipation would allow. Yet, it only took one listen of the album for it to sink into the synapses of my mind. Now a week later, I can’t stop listening to it and I’m still trying to process it. Halcyon Digest clearly marks a new musical development for Deerhunter. Once again they’ve matured as musicians, presenting songs with greater complexity and emotional breadth than ever before.
Cox’s vocals remain as processed and ethereal as always, but his usual honestly autobiographical subject matter has been rounded out, addressing universal themes such as growing up with sagely perspective. New aural elements like chimes, horns, and, autoharp add an unprecedented level of texture to their music. All around Halcyon Digest just sounds lighter and more lovable without sacrificing any depth of character. In fact, the musicianship exceptional, executing intricately dynamic songs with imperceptible skill and effortless grace. With each listen of the album I realize another element, and appreciate it all the more. At least for me, that is the defining nature of a seminal work of art.
So what songs from a generally compelling album have especially grabbed my attention? I love the upbeat, melodic nature of track three, Revival. It makes me want to go skipping down the street. At only a little over two minutes long, Revival is one of those snappy songs that you hate to hear end, but if it were any longer it would have less charm. Lyrically tracks four and seven, Sailing and Basement Scene respectively, have been speaking all too candidly with my worries as of late. Their contemplative pace and lo-fi approach have matched the recent bout of wet weather. Consequently, I’ve found myself putting them on repeat. I’m also thoroughly enjoying the last track, He Would Have Laughed, which perfectly opens with some silvery autoharp before proceeding to beautifully evolve for over seven minutes. I suppose some listeners may find that excessive, but I think it works well as a grand finale for what I’m already willing to describe as one of the best albums of the year.
Whether you’ve been an ardent fan of Deerhunter for years, or remained ambivalent to their popularity, or have never even heard of them before, I earnestly recommend you give Halcyon Digest a listen. Here’s the music video for the first single, Helicopter, to start you off.