Atlas Sound - Parallax

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2011-11-07

Twenty-first century pop's premier outsider weirdo is back - not too big a surprise since the ceaselessly prolific Bradford Cox is rarely away for long. Reviving his solo project, Deerhunter's main man is once more making horizon-stretching guitar 'n' synth pop music, bursting with psychedelic strangeness. Unlike previous Atlas Sound albums, however, Parallax is a mostly accessible, tuneful affair, less obviously influenced by Arthur Russell and leftfield electronica, owing a more pronounced debt to fuzzy-headed troubadour Syd Barrett.

Opener 'The Shakes' is probably the loveliest thing on here; a gorgeous, swift-footed ballad which feels simultaneously widescreen and, thanks for Cox's muffled vocals, intimate. "I can't remember my address," burbles Cox, his vocals dissolving under a deluge of effects like a penny in battery acid, before synths and vocal harmonies swoop in. The result is just effortlessly confident and classy. The perfect example of what Cox calls his "sci-fi fever dreams".

Cox's fascination with pioneering 60s producer Joe Meek can be felt on 'Amplifiers', a shuffling, half-calypso, half-indie strum-along smothered with odd effects. It puts one in mind of Meek's fabulously weird production of 'I Hear a New World' by Rod Freeman and the Blue Men. Cox's interest in Meek is understandable: Meek made pop music in a way no one had heard before but which many, briefly at least, found utterly addictive. He was a troubled, socially awkward gay man who struggled obsessively to recreate the sounds he heard in his mind. Thankfully, however, the chances of Cox shooting dead his landlady before turning the gun on himself seem remote.

However, where Meek was forever frustrated by his reliance on musicians to play his songs, Cox is a one-man band in his own right and Parallax is easily his most complete, coherent collection yet. Which isn't to say he's made anything which you could imagine cropping up on a Chris Moyles playlist; songs such as 'Doldrums' and the title track are dislocated, down-beat affairs combining dusty blues, alt-country and plenty of fizzing, oscillating synth-work. Beck's more obtuse, acoustic output is a good reference point. 'The Shakes' aside, the album's most accessible moment is probably 'Mona Lisa', an uncomplicated mid-pace tune with a memorable chorus and an excellent, almost glam rock mid-section.

Lyrically, it doesn't sound like Cox is yet a happy and settled man. However, there is a certain sexiness to his angst. "Is your love worth/ the nausea it could bring," he sings on 'Modern Aquatic Nightsongs', his voice seductive and crunchy like Marc Bolan. Witness also the rock 'n' roll tremble in his voice on 'Angel is Broken' and closing track 'Lightworks'. Then there's that smouldering album cover. Is Cox on his way to becoming a Stipe-style collage rock sex symbol?

The only misstep comes on the the otherwise lovely 'Te Amo', on which Cox's beseeching vocal somehow sounds uncomfortably close to (shock gasp!) Bono. It doesn't suit him. No matter how much you like Deerhunter, you probably don't want them filling enormodromes while wearing leather kecks and hanging out with world leaders. Another criticism could be made of the album's general one-pace dynamic. But hey - who buys an Atlas Sound album for the club bangers?

The fact is that this album has a completeness to it which makes one excited to think what Cox could create next. A multicolour pop breakthrough? Maybe, but you know it could just as easily be a return to bedroom-based mumbling and skittish beats, depending on where the muse takes him. Oh well, I guess we'll find out when a new Bradford Cox release hits the shelves in, oooh... three weeks?

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