The artwork adorning the sixth full-length studio effort from Atlanta, Georgia alt. stalwarts Deerhunter depicts its title, Monomania, aglow in igneous neon. Monomania is, as the dictionary duly informs, ‘exaggerated or obsessive enthusiasm for or preoccupation with one thing’ which, truth be known, is not altogether dissimilar to the reaction the band these days command as Bradford Cox & co. have become synonymous with both independence and invigoration. They’re easy to fall for, in short. And we fell pretty hard for their previous – the oneiric, yet still lucid and direct Halcyon Digest. Thus like nocturnal cretins creeping out from under the cover of darkness, we’re attracted compulsively; obsessively even, toward the dim reddish incandescence of the word. And by wow is Monomania another altogether enlightening experience – their latest in as many LPs.
Though denote the neutrality of the adjective enlightening, for gone is the lustrous sheen to have coated Halcyon Digest as Cox apparently opts instead to indulge his whimsical fancies and penchant for the scrappily underproduced. This is the sound of a band as its master puppeteer had always intended for it to be, by and large dancing gleefully to a jaggy tune if not of indulgence, then self-satisfaction. Bradford was openly displeased by what Deerhunter had become – they’d shot themselves in the foot to his ears, as they’d developed an ineluctable overemphasis on polished melody and honed composition. Gone was the spontaneity he’d originally envisaged, instead superseded by glorious melancholy becoming as it was vulnerable. And as such, Monomania may conceivably be deemed Cox’ obsessive dispelling, or perhaps rather a neurotic rejecting, of that very aesthetic.
Glimpses of it remain in the rickety shimmying of Dream Captain, or the cheeky summery breezy that is Blue Agent – both of which are notably, almost surprisingly fronted by Cox himself. Though elsewhere a flinty, and at times almost impregnably chaotic vibe of obdurate autonomy prevails. Does it liberate Bradford from his inadvertently self-imposed creative shackles? Perhaps. Did the departure of then bassist Josh Fauver catalyse so concerted a transmutation? Maybe. But rather more conclusively, such a regression essentially makes for a rather less refreshing finished article. Leather Jacket II, all unintelligible screeching and squalling feedback, lacks tact and already sounds weatherbeaten as James Dean’s sable Rebel Without a Cause costuming; a caustic title track sounds unnecessarily haywire; while Penascola comes across a thinly veiled, if thick and sludgy Strokes pastiche, as Cox slurs in a distinctly Casablancan drawl: “The woman that I love had took another man. Whoa!”
These are the unequivocal “rock ‘n’ roll” moments cited by Cox in recent interviews concerning the record’s conception though truth be known, it’s an all the more pleasurable listen when they opt for the somewhat more “avant-garde” stylisation the troupe’s Dream Captain has also deigned to reference – the plush claustrophobia of Punk (La Vie Antérieure) or the seemingly Francophile guile of T.H.M., during which he tells of the untimely demise of an insane “kid brother” to have “took two bullets to the brain.” The influence of haloform upon the song’s concoction? I’m unsure. But the commensurately seraphic Sleepwalking – replete with his rueing of a decade “spent searching for something time will never bring” thereby in keeping with Cox’ keening for a perhaps ever impalpable perfection – again benefits from a less is more approach.
As does the bare-bone acoustica of Nitebike, which is as though a flighty page torn from his tangential Atlas Sound endeavours although Deerhunter isn’t all about Bradford, and while Fauver may well have dearly departed Lockett Pundt mercifully remains. Reprehensibly sidelined, though still present. And it’s when he’s passed the buck that Monomania sounds a record worth obsessing over, for The Missing is a lost Lotus Plaza doozy in kind to be filed, and so too esteemed alongside the likes of Strangers, Monoliths, Eveningness and so on. His voice an incomprehensible drone for the most part though his vocal itself an ever endearing hum tightly coiled about pernickety kinetic drums and twinkling, recurrent guitar refrains, if an outlier in style then it’s a standout in impact for it’s that most readily recalled once we hit the run-out groove. Thus less an expressively monomaniacal recording and more another of Cox’ egomaniacal escapades, sounds as though the Georgians are still to orchestrate that obligatorily seismic shift in Pundt’s favour…
Released: May 6th, 2013 [4AD]