Deerhunter - Monomania | Album Review | By Volume

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Deerhunter-Monomania

Deerhunter

Monomania

You can hardly blame him for acting like this is a matter of life and death. This music is how we’ll remember him.

Comments (2)
Author: on May 3, 2013
9.0
4AD
May 7, 2013

Deerhunter’s true essence – pop forms disintegrating into chaos – is uncorked in the first five seconds of “Neon Junkyard.” A chiming, Byrdsian guitar riff is cleft in two by Bradford Cox’s low, throat-gurgling croak, sputtered like the last breath of a dying man. This beauty-found-in-destruction aesthetic is littered all throughout the band’s prolific catalog; chord progressions imploded by crushing feedback, diaphanous arpeggios sopping with reverb, and elegant melodic figures repeated, elongated and deformed until they’re recast in grotesque, drone rock shapes. In many ways, these sounds are extensions of their creator, an eloquent, gloriously talented soul who remains trapped in a misshapen body; Cox suffers from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in unusually long, skeletal limbs, severe cardiovascular complications, and a shortened life expectancy. In a 2007 interview with MTV’s John Norris, Cox acknowledged the disease’s effect on his art and psych: “I don’t care about anything except making as much music as I can to be remembered by…. I can’t really imagine living very long.”

Six years later, Cox is still alive and sculpting sound with the same pathological obsession after which Deerhunter’s sixth studio LP is named. Monomania‘s serrated edges claw deep into the twisted, Faulknerian muck of Cox’s darkest emotions – loneliness, despair, and self-loathing – all the while sweetening the poison with upbeat melodies and a plethora of hooks. Led by producer Nicolas Vernhes’ unusually coarse studio mix and Cox’s teeth-gritting, spittle-throwing vocal performances, Monomania lacks the spacey atmosphere and lush, sonic cushioning of previous Deerhunter apexes Microcastle and Halcyon Digest, but contains the most insistent, straightforward, and smartly arranged songs the band has recorded to date. In both spirit and form, Deerhunter continues to capture the opposing poles of one of our most human conditions – the bleak melancholy and perverse joy found simply in being weird.

Monomania‘s careful sequencing accentuates its stark, almost bi-polar shifts in mood and recording style. Nestled between the filthy, needle-in-the-red climax of 8-tracked “Leather Jacket II” and the greasy, backwoods stomp of “Pensacola”, Lockett Pundt’s crystalline guitar melody on “The Missing” sounds almost angelic. The album’s stunning middle section reconciles these extremes with a stellar run of swampy hooks and mesmerizing grooves – “Dream Captain,” “Blue Agent”, “Sleepwalking” and “Back to the Middle” — the latter’s stuttering, giddy-up guitar riff and warm Wurlitzer keys sounding just as marvelous when cranked up on car speakers as they do over intimate headphones. Cox’s claustrophobic anxiety remains ever-present – most of the time it sounds like he’s singing through a muffled gag. Even when the tone lightens – “T.H.M.’s” clean jazzy guitar lines, hand claps, and 70s AOR vibe are a brilliant change-up — it’s haunted by Cox’s simple, devastating admittances: “Ever since I was born / I have felt so forlorn.”

Misery remains the wellspring of Monomania‘s finest musical moments; on the hypnotic “Sleepwalking,” Cox vividly recounts the nervous breakdown he suffered in a London hotel lobby during Deerhunter’s 2011 tour: “Something starts to shut down inside / My body and my tired mind / Too horrified to see.” It’s melancholy meted out in blissful layers of melody and as close as Monomania gets to the guitar rock transcendence of Microcastle‘s “Nothing Ever Happened” or Halcyon Digest‘s “Desire Lines.” Closer “Punk (La vie Antérieure)” slithers along with lo-fi, Sebadoh charm, as Cox drops a breadcrumb trail to some old hurt: “for a week, I was weak / I was down on my knees / pray to God, make it stop / help me find some relief.” The song’s French subtitle references Charles Baudelaire’s “A Former Life”, a poem about a man who lives amid ocean-side splendor and calmness, lavishly attended to by perfumed servants. Yet even his slaves know the truth — “the only care they had / to know what secret grief had made me sad.”

In another interview on SiriusXMU after his panic attack, Cox describes that seed of darkness in his music as a manifestation of all “the horror and panic and sickness that we have on file.” He recounts extensive surgeries, months spent in children’s hospitals, and events he’s witnessed firsthand throughout his life — decapitations, car accidents, gruesome deaths – that simply can’t be unseen. Just before the obliterating sonic conclusion of Monomania‘s title track in which all melodic pretense drops away and you’re deluged in sheets of savage noise, there’s a brutal confession: “In my head / there is something rotting dead.” Monomania delves more deeply into Cox’s unpleasant core than any other Deerhunter record. It makes you appreciate the wizardry he’s able to accomplish in these songs – wringing from his memories a pure distillation of anguish and pop longing that’s as fascinating as it is disturbing.

After listening to Monomania and Cox’s deranged interview, I’m struck by the realization that wielding the enormous, expressive power of his art may be as close to normal as he ever feels. It’s no wonder he creates with such abandon, admitting: “You want to almost take the microphone and just squeeze it and strangle it . Or take the tape machine and really fucking make smoke come out of it. You really wanna do something for once that really does capture how you see things, or hear them, or feel them.” The interviewer tries to interject but Cox barrels feverishly onward, oblivious to the fact that she’s even in the room. You can hardly blame him for acting like this is a matter of life and death. He’s talking about the music by which we’ll remember him.

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