Deerhunter have certainly travelled a long way from the initial dark, dense bludgeoning of their 2005 debut ‘Turn It Up, Faggot’. Sharing more in common with 2007’s ‘Cryptograms’ and the sonic wanderings of Ariel Pink, ‘Monomania’ retains the outsider edge that typifies main man Bradford Cox’s output, while stepping back from the cleaner production sound of predecessor ‘Halcyon Digest’.
This, their sixth album, is a glam/garage concoction that saunters casually from reference to reference, from New Wave to Queen to Baudelaire, filling the gaps with effortless ease and sleaze. Cox revealed in a recent interview that he and guitarist Lockett Pundt listened only to The Ramones, Pierre Schaeffer, Ricky Nelson and Bo Diddley prior to making the album – an eclectic bunch to say the least.
That aesthetic certainly comes across, while Cox deploys a Jekyll and Hyde vocal style – Iggy one minute, Bowie the next – in a collection of songs that could be both autobiographical and fictional narrative. The album almost stutters to a start with Neon Junkyard until Cox swoops in coated in distortion, moving through the noise rock layers and abrasions of Denim Jacket II, to the spidery fuzz-country of Pensacola. Dream Captain channels New Wave, built around a simple riff and pounding chorus, whereas the synth pop of The Missing threatens to bristle into something scuzzier, yet maintains an airy texture. And all this before the midway point.
Blue Agent begins a mid-album run of effortless, stripped down pop songs, where the lyrics come to the fore, sung with more clarity than before – “If you ever need to talk/ I won’t be around/ if you ever need to fight for life/ I’ll make no sound” – and the vagaries of the storytelling become more interesting. “I tried to keep him straight/ Ever since the day he was born/ He came out a little late/ Maybe that’s where frustration’s born” Cox sings on the fantastic T.H.M. until a coughing effect takes over the song. Sleepwalking then is surfy retro sweetness fronted with reverbed guitar, as “Can’t you see we’ve grown apart now” repeats and recedes.
The album is peppered with repetition, in guitar riffs and vocal effect, in fuzz effects and lyrical phrases. The singularity of the true meaning of the album title becomes evident on repeated listens, and never more so than on the eponymous track itself. A feedback intro builds up to that fantastic, obsessive reiteration of the title, increasing in noise and intensity as it goes on – an engine grinding through the gears, eventually winding down to a reluctant halt.
The more conventional Punk (La Vie Antérieure) is punctured by crashes and counter-riffs from all sides just for a moment, the vocal takes a high register, and it’s as if it never recovers; the album ends as it began, with a halting stutter. The impact of ‘Monomania’ is almost immediate, and this release sees the band at their elusive best – at certain times gleaming pop, and at others, the grime that coats it.