By Bryan Hopton
Deerhunter’s third album Microcastle has been available, thanks to an extremely early leak online, for nearly half a year. I’ve had it since I first discovered this leak, and was later the recipient of a very nice promotional copy of the CD for reviewing. It was awfully nice of them to send it so far in advance, because I have listened to this album approximately 20 times, and am still at a loss for words. Even with countless reviews already hitting the Internet, and mountains of feedback piling up on message boards around the world, I’ve yet to find a suitable way to turn “Holy fucking shit, this is awesome” into a full review.
Now, it would be easy to sit there and say “Your reaction makes me think you’re some kind of Deerhunter/Bradford Cox fanboy who would give any of their releases a glowing review.” I say this because people have said this to me. However, I assure you, dear reader, that this is not the case. When Microcastle leaked, it had been barely more than a year since Cryptograms had come out, and I was already forgetting why I had loved that one so much. In addition to tiring of their second LP quickly, I will maintain to this day that Deerhunter’s debut, Turn It Up Faggot, is one of the worst albums I own. Microcastle, however, is a clear and more focused attempt to define “the Deerhunter sound” — that being hazy atmospherics, swells of guitar noise set against a pop background, and a grab-bag of vocal styles.
This music is the most straightforward and accessible that Deerhunter has released to date; it’s their first album to truly bare itself to the listener. Rather than taking their usual stabs at “indie-pop against a noise-rock backdrop”, we’re served the exact opposite: the band have made an indie-pop record that happens to dabble here and there with guitar noise and swells of feedback. The album is neither as stark and confrontational as Turn It Up Faggot, nor is it as hazy and skeletal as Cryptograms. Even comparing it to its predecessors borders on pointlessness.
Everything here feels more personal. Perhaps the departure of guitarist Colin Mee resulted in a more melancholic band, and thus a more subdued album. But, throughout its course, Microcastle plays out like some kind of murky, art-damaged, Beach Boys record (sans the sugar-sweet vocal melodies, of course). Guitarist Lockett Pundt opens things with “Agoraphobia”, in which he repeats the pleading mantra “Cover me, come for me, comfort me”; the rest of Microcastle follows suit. “Calvary Scars” tells the story of a boy’s public crucifixion; “Little Kids” equates age with dying. Deerhunter withdrew into themselves over 2008 only to emerge, baring their souls, toward the year’s end.
Ultimately, this is going to be one of the year’s most debated records. Individuals who endlessly compare it to Cryptograms will find themselves missing out on a release that is alternately emotional, skeletal, and beautiful in its frailty. Those who are quick to dismiss anything Pitchfork slaps a good review onto will be missing out on what is easily one of the year’s best indie-pop albums. And the people who simply don’t know about it need to be informed. Promptly.