Welcome to Gay-Nerds biweekly review of music made by members of the GLBT community and their allies. With every New Year’s Day comes the realization that I have been spending the past twelve months living in the mid 1990’s, feeling somewhat guilty about not keeping up with current music. There’s always a week where my hard drive weeps due to the incessant acquisition of new music. Most of it filters through like a hazy dream and I am left grasping a few worthwhile moments before I ultimately forget about it. A few weeks later, the name of the band will pop up and my feelings about their work will intensify, whether lobbing gobs of praise or spewing bile at an entire decade of work. Either way, these feeling are warped well beyond what I may have initially felt when I had actively listened and heard whatever music is debated. These memories are molded into exactly what I want them to be in spite of the reality of the occurrence.
I bring all of this up because the men of Deerhunter spend Halcyon Digest gliding through the bleary etchings of age, memory and time. Entering their second decade together, Deerhunter is about as far removed from the bratty snarl of “Turn it up Faggot” as you could get. Since the loss of Justin Bosthworth, Deerhunter have turned inward, rarely writing lyrics ahead of time while laboring over song structures and demos for ages before recording them. It’s an interesting approach, trying to build a rich backdrop for spur-of-the-moment sincerity. So what happens when they decide to take this approach and magnify and make sense of their past demons and fears?
Bradford Cox claimed that the songs on Halcyon Digest reflect the band’s past as well as what the band remembers to be as past. The opening snaps and whirs of Earthquake begin the descent into dreamscapes, counting down the last bit of conscious thought like a bedroom clock. From there, Deerhunter continues on the dream-pop and shoegaze they have become respected for, taking their sweet time to establish foggy paths through childhood memories and past romances. The back-to -back offerings of Memory Boy and Desire Lanes perfectly captures the sense of transition one makes between adolescence and adulthood, trying to make sense of one’s self while forging ahead to the next steps.
One’s perceptions play tricks on him or her; insurmountable events can seem like small valleys in retrospect, and current obstacles can be brushed away. Bradford’s murmurs and moans as though he’s comforting a friend and death. “Desire Lanes” and “Helicopter” sound like the last words of a man on his deathbed. Begging to get stoned, prayed for, and feeling a gentle touch show a remarkable balance between youthful naivete and a paranoid fear of mortality. Much like their way of recoding music, Deerhunter seem almost afraid to rehearse or plot. What point is there in not living in the present? What good will that do if you won’t remember things the way they really happened? However, the guys seem almost determined to be detached from reality that its almost difficult to believe their fear. From the vocal effects to the “c’est la vie” attitude of the lyrics, I’m perplexed to find what it is Deerhunter are trying to do with their latest offering. Are they trying to mourn lost time or simply live in a state of blissful moment to moment existence?
This lack of direction and apparent purpose is at once intriguing and infuriating. The closing track “He Would Have Laughed” is probably the most frustrating track on the album. At once an ode to departed friend Jay Reteard, the song is a slow burning seven minutes of hazy guitars backing a stream of consciousness that is at once a plea for help and a shrug of indifference. I simply don’t get this song. Are we trying to run from our pasts again, or are we admitting that we need help in defining meaning, that we may need to grow up (in five minutes, promise)? More importantly, what kind of tribute is this to Jay?
On the whole, Halcyon Digest a pleasant listening experience. I can see why this got a lot of accolades from the music press, and it certainly hits a lot of purr buttons in my ears and brain. However, this album is almost as fleeting as the dreams and history it’s trying to avoid and decipher. Despite multiple listens, I don’t remember much of what actually happened and found myself resorting to making notes of what I should write about rather than remembering what I felt like I should write about. I have a feeling Deerhunter wants to move on to the next project rather than share what they may have learned or meant in their vague songs. Either way, they may need to gain some closure in order to leave me a bit more satisfied. Who knows for sure though. I’m sure in a few weeks my frustrations with this album will either be forgotten or intensified through the passing of time.
Recommended if you like
Grizzly Bear “Yellow House”, Beach House “Teenage Dream”, Bear In Heaven “Beast Rest Forth Mouth”
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