Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest was a masterpiece; the culmination of their early experiments with krautrock, 60’s pop, Velvet Underground-style rock, post-punk to shoegaze, cohesively manifested into one grandiose work. The record felt boundless of time and genre, floating wide-opened with boyish enthusiasm. With producer Ben Allen’s bottom-heavy technique, the album had a sonically unified clarity across its eleven tracks, no matter which style or idea the band embraced and drifted on to.
A lot has changed since. Bass player Joshua Fauver, who wrote most of “Nothing Ever Happened” left the band, an additional guitarist Franke Moyles joined, while Lockett Pundt, who besides singing on “Desire Lines” co-wrote most of Halcyon Digest, ended up hardy contributing with any writing on Monomania. This left almost all the work up to Bradford Cox’s creative madness. While not saying it sounds like the fragile beauty of Cox’s solo alias Atlas Sound, it becomes rather clear that Deerhunter anno 2013 is mostly a one man show. Rather amusingly the sole songwriting contribution by Pundt also happens to be on of the stand-out’s; “The Missing” is a beautiful piece of wistful indie pop, sounding a lot like a sibling to “Strangers” by Pundt’s solo project Lotus Plaza.
My initial impression of Monomania was of a record that’s missing several ingredients that made Halcyon Digest such a mind-blowing classic. Monomania might be their most cohesively sounding record, but for a band like Deerhunter it’s not necessarily a compliment. What made the former records exceptional was the element of surprises manifested by egalitarianism were several of the band members contributed to a heterogenic environment. This led to sudden show-stoppers like Microcastle’s “Nothing Ever Happened” or Halcyon Digest’s “Desire Lines”. But once I got past that initial phase of discontent, the album opened up to an inviting world of distorted mayhem interchanged by Deerhunter’s usual warm waves of atmospheric guitar-rock. Sonically, this is their rawest record, a journey that at times embarks on crude punk aesthetics. The aggressively displayed guitars break noticeably from their former efforts, but underneath the fuzzy layers it still very much contains their solid sense of identity. Impressively, it all sounds rather effortless, leaving much of the krautrock aside for manic blues-riffs and punk attitude. The result is 12 songs demonstrating incredible songwriting. Most of the songs jump right at you, building chaos and fascination all at once. There is the Bowie-style glamrock of “Leather Jacket II” and the frantic chaos of the title track, yet the finest moments are the more stripped down and streamlined tracks of “T.H.M” , the album closer “Punk (La Vie Antérieure) and the formerly mentioned “The Missing”.
Still, I suspect that this is a polarizing album that some might see as a welcomed direction for a band that doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, but rather shake things up with a diverse range of hard-edged rock. Others who might have expected furtherance into Halcyon Digest most psychedelic moments might end up a bit underwhelmed. Personally, Monomania as a most welcomed break with an overpopulated indie-scene of ambient textures and hazy “kraut-pop”. Once you’re brave enough to let it in, Monomania becomes a slump-free passage into some of Cox’s most incredible songwriting. It’s a record that is more than the sum of its parts, and with a presumably highly dignifying aging process. Whether this is Deerhunter’s best work might be too early to tell, but Monomania is without question one of this year’s finest moments.