Friday, November 4, 2011

Atlas Sound - Parallax

Deerhunter's Bradford Cox has been banging around his side project Atlas Sound for a long time.  And for the most part, it's always felt like that: a side project.  Whether it be the stark arrangements, excessive use of electronic drum kits, or the constant giveaways/ep's/home recordings, it's always felt like the product of an at-home pursuit.  Not that this was always a bad thing:  the recordings gave insight to Cox's songwriting, and delivered a different perspective on Deerhunter's sound.  It's just that there was always a feeling (much like a Keith or Mick solo record), that you were hearing a piece of a whole that would be much more enjoyable once reunited with its compadres.  Always, until now:  with Parallax everything changes.

From the first moments of Atlas Sound's latest, it's clear that Bradford Cox has put more effort and care into this release than any of the previous records.  Or at least it feels that way:  the disc is expertly produced with tracks that feature layer upon layer of carefully orchestrated sounds that give each track a distinctive character and lilt.  Instrumentation has been stepped up to a degree that indicates either Cox has gotten much better at overdubbing, or additional musicians were brought in to lend a hand.  The presence of a real-life drum kit on the record is a welcome addition, and along with the pristine recordings of the other analog elements, really serves to help the sound emerge from the realm of "bedroom musings".

It's not just the recordings that make the record, however.  On Parallax Cox's songwriting may be in the strongest form we've seen it.  On the record he manages to pull in the stark ambience of his Atlas Sound writing, and mix it with both sides of Deerhunter: the rock and roll band that can nail a beat to a wall, and the tripped-out psych-rock giants who are masters of the wall of sound.  The result is a record that generates a Pet Sounds-esque lever of stylistic variation, where over time it becomes unclear what style or genre of music is being heard.  Rather, it's a style all its own.

In short, Parallax is not only the best record from Atlas Sound thus far, it's also Bradford Cox's most unified project to date.  It oozes vision and perspective, and demands more than a simple one or two listens to truly appreciate.  There's no question that Cox has been responsible for much of the sound that has emerged from his two bands.  Yet this record brings that awareness to a new level, and begs the question of whether there's any end to the depth of offerings the musician can cull from his bag of tricks.  If things continue in this way, the answer will be a definitive "no" for the foreseeable future.

Parallax drops November 8th on 4AD

mp3: Deerhunter - Terra Incognita