album review: deerhunter, halcyon digest
This album is # 6 on my Top 5 Albums of 2010.
It’s not what you think.
I was never a huge fan of Deerhunter (until now). I thought their sound was a little contrived and at times, unoriginal. This opinion was formed when I was in Arizona and solidified when I moved to Brooklyn, because it seemed Deerhunter music was everywhere: bars, house parties I went to, that girl’s obnoxiously large “retro” hundred-dollar headphones on the subway, in restaurants, etc. In no way, shape or form do I consider myself some holier-than-thou music fan (I did list The Black Keys as my favorite album of 2010 for pete’s sake). It’s just that when music, or really ANYTHING, is in your face that much, you start to dislike it. This “being human” dilemma explains how I feel about a lot of things, like Katy Perry, complaining about the heat in the summer and then missing it in the winter and last but not least, Halloween.
One of my coworkers had been raving about Halcyon Digest since its September 2010 release, but it took me much longer than that to actually seek the album out. I first listened to the music out of the album order (thanks Grooveshark!) and decided that my initial opinion of the band held true. Like so many other “chillwave” bands that became big in 2010, most notably Neon Indian, Deerhunter sounded like the rest. Did I really need to be listening to more art rock meets shoegaze meets punk meets indie?
It wasn’t until I actually looked up the tracklist that I discovered the genius of Halcyon Digest. Yes, the music makes just as good background noise to my endless hours of internet research as it does on at a party or bar, but is that really a valid criticism? It’s a good thing that the album is versatile enough to accompany me throughout the entire day. Halcyon Digest is a multi-dimensional, solid piece of work whose varied emotions and attitudes mirror those of everyday life.
The best tracks on the album are lead single “Revival,”Helicopter,” “Desire Lines,” “Basement Scene” solely for its relevance to my life and “Coronado”. Each of these songs differently but also quite singularly achieves a synergy that is the core of Deerhunter’s sound and paramount to the album’s success. On these tracks, the melody, downplayed vocals, mumbled echoing, multi-instrumentalism and experimental vein all work really well for Deerhunter. Unfortunately that’s not the case on the whole album (see “Sailing”). But it’s 2011, and I’m still going to pretend I’m thinking positively.
The first three songs are traditionally chillwave, recalling shoegaze heavily on “Desire Lines” and elements of dreamy pop music on “Revival” and “Helicopter.” If it weren’t for the fading vocals and complex instrumental backings, I might be more ready to call it traditionally indie. “Basement Scene” explores the idea of growing up; its refrain “I don’t want to get old, no/I want to get old” pretty much sums up everything I’ve been thinking about these days, post uni graduation and after months of entering “the real world”.
One of the more artistic transgressions the band makes is from dreamy pop and shoegaze to sax-fueled piano rock on “Coronado”. It could just be because I’m from New Jersey and love Clarence Clemons more than most people, but the sax on this track recalls early Bruce Springsteen in the best way possible. “Coronado” is the biggest evidence of the band’s solid growth from earlier studio efforts because of this added sax element.
In terms of the album’s theme, I had a hard time determining what most of the songs were about A) because I’ve listened to it so many times that I kind of stopped paying attention to the words and B) because the lyrics are frequently sparse or oblique. Given that the words “friends,” “lonely,” “young” and “old” are used in a majority of most songs and this is the band’s fifth studio release, I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s probably a record about being an aging hipster. Given how many times I’ve said that over the past year, though, it could just be that I’m an aging hipster. How’s that for meta?
Anyway, the two take-aways you should get from me this week are:
- Halcyon Digest is well worth your time, and
- It’s important to listen to albums in the order they were intended. I would’ve had a much more limited view of the band had I just given up on my attempts to like Deerhunter when the songs didn’t make sense.