||4 November 2011
||Bradford Cox, Nicolas Vernhes
Love him or loathe him, Bradford Cox has been at the forefront of some of the most thrilling sounds of the past decade. Though he certainly polarises opinion, he is neither the messianic voice of the Pitchfork generation some claim he is or the pretentious arrogant flake that his detractors take him to be. On the third instalment of his Atlas Sound venture he demonstrates what a damn fine songwriter he can be. Never mind the hype, good songs like on here is what we should characterise him most for.
Parallax again showcases the fine pop abilities of the Deerhunter frontman. Although he has said in the past, "I have ideas that I can't make work with a five piece rock band", this is by no means a collection of bedroom recordings. They have all the power and drive of the tightest of bands as well as introspective moments that may be expected from a solo project. Songs like 'The Shakes' and the title track are genuinely a swell in indie pop hooks. Cox’s voice on both tracks is stamped with his trademark nervous drawl. Both are touched with bright and breezy guitar lines and contrast quite deeply with the more esoteric work of his famed band. The hipster restraint of Cox seems to be in a struggle with a love for a more exuberant rock possibly one close to Glam. Somewhere in the back of his head there is a big ballad waiting to escape.
'Amplifiers' and 'Te Amo' drift softly along as if they are floating downstream. Indeed the polyphonic atmospherics on both tracks serve to produce a sort of water effect that reminds one of the works of modern electronica artists like Four Tet and Susumu Yokota. The production elements are layered and buoyant yet lo-fi and intimate at the same time. I couldn’t describe these better than Cox does himself as 'Modern Aquatic Nightsongs' which is the title of a track at the midpoint of the album but feels more relative as a touchstone to the proceeding numbers. This is just as laidback and opaque as its predecessors as Cox swoons in relaxed vocals. Once more there is an element of modern organic electronica in its features that Cox may not have felt comfortable doing with his acolytes within Deerhunter.
Once we’re settled into the various styles on the album, Cox kicks up a gear with a real pop single in 'Mona Lisa' and the muscular 'Praying Man'. The former is a brighter slice of Deerhunter melody that feels precisely composed yet whimsical and off the cuff like the Go-Betweens and the Pixies at their poppiest. The latter track is just as nonchalant as Cox serves notice to the listener of his attempts to combine formal song structures with twisted sonic assaults.
The stylings in Cox’s voice should not be undermined. On 'Doldrums' he evokes The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan as he delivers an emotive vocal full of pop melancholy. The track itself could be musically indebted to the abstract sounds of another eighties trailblazer: David Sylvian. It captures the dreamy spaces within its layered production and sounds like a fast subway fizzing towards a platform as it reaches its crescendo. This is probably the most evocative song on the album.
My favourite track has to be the surprisingly vibrant and catchy 'My Angel Is Broken' which almost pastiches a big sixties number racing out of the tracks with its killer bassline and Donovan-esque cavernous vocals. Watch this fill the floor at your local indie disco in the coming weeks or maybe just in your dreams. Although Cox is too cool for school to harbour any movements towards mainstream success this track exemplified the sort of popular approach he was looking for throughout but was maybe too afraid to step beyond his default left field leanings for fear of blandness.
'Terra Incognito' is another laid back number that only really justifies inclusion through the "ba-ba" harmonies in the middle that disperse around like raindrops enhancing the listening experience immensely.
High pitched Cox can be grating especially on acoustic guitar like on the penultimate track 'Flagstaff'. There’s not much to recommend this other than the looping drone and sequencing near the end. They mercifully flatten out the squawking sounds of a singer trying too hard.
Fortunately the collection ends with a bang in the shape of 'Lightworks' grandiose indie pop. The guitar effects, crashing drums and backing vocals work in union over Cox’s drawl that let him end on a high point. This is another brilliant attempt at concise pop writing.
The album overall is a qualified success. It’s a mishmash of shiny hooks, electronica and mellow acoustics that demonstrate a Bradford Cox more willing to set him apart as a talented artist than sulk in a corner or play the obscure card for fashion's sake. Despite its jumbled nature, Parallax contains some of his best and warmest work so far and this sort of creativity can only bode well for Cox’s, and, more importantly one hopes, for Deerhunter’s future.
- Tim Gannon