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Deerhunter
Monomania Joseph Burnett , May 1st, 2013 11:17

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Deerhunter are one of those very fortunate indie rock bands who have managed to achieve a surprising amount of critical and popular consensus. I would imagine that, when all is said and done, there are a good number of NME-fronting four pieces who may have had more hits (briefly) or Glastonbury-fueled hype, but who ultimately would trade it all, now that they have been exposed as being irrelevant and fatuous, for Deerhunter's less heralded but more sturdy popularity.

As annoying as Deerhunter can be at times, I'd still embrace every one of their shoegaze-meets-pop-rock songs if it meant we could banish every overhyped, moronic, culturally insignificant release by Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, The Enemy and Babyshambles into the abyss of non-existence. But, if Monomania signals anything, it's that, as superior as Deerhunter may be to the aforementioned dogshit, they actually sit much closer to mainstream “indie” than their cheerleaders would have us believe.

It's all the more frustrating because Deerhunter have often promised a lot, only to fall just short of their much-publicised influences, generally due to a lack of proper filtering. From Cryptograms to Halcyon Digest, you often got the feeling that frontman Bradford Cox lacked the discipline to cut away excess and inferior tunes, culminating in their baroque pop album Microcastle being released with an entire extra album tacked on. Ironically, perhaps, said bonus record, Weird Era Cont. has always struck me as being the band's most striking release, outdoing its parent in terms of melodies, atmosphere and general bizarreness.

At their best, Deerhunter can reach heady climes of drone-based rock, consolidating their influences (krautrock, drone, punk, post-punk) into crisp, dreamy slices of pop-rock, all driven by Bradford Cox's melancholic lyrics and fragile voice. They also cast their net wide enough, with the fuzzy shoegaze-meets-punk of Cryptograms differing remarkably from Halcyon Digest's monochrome dream pop. On Monomania, they take a reverse turn and move away from their more opulent recent output to reconnect with their more brittle beginnings. It's possibly their most upbeat and punchy release to date.

'Neon Junkyard' is a classic opening track, the kind that seems to immediately set the album's tone with its choppy acoustic guitar riffs, swirling synth effects, sweeping electric guitar lines and driving drums. Cox's voice is multi-tracked and distorted dramatically, and the track collapses to a close after just under three minutes. The message is clear: this is Deerhunter unfettered and raw, as beholden to Hüsker Dü and Pixies as they are to their ancestors on 4AD like Cocteau Twins.

'Leather Jacket II' continues the trend, at even greater levels of thrash, all distorted guitars and mumbled vocal phrases. If the band had built on this intensity over the course of the rest of Monomania, they might have had a winner on their hands, but most of the remaining ten tracks are slight, like echoes of their previous work, from 'The Missing''s drifting pop-rock plod, which sounds like a Microcastle outtake, to the dull garage stylings of 'Dream Captain'. Most of the album sounds like a kaleidoscope of every “indie” rock archetype, to the point that, whilst it's never debatable that Monomania is a Deerhunter record, you still find yourself thinking of Silversun Pickups, The Black Keys, The Flaming Lips or Arcade Fire, not necessarily with positive comparisons in mind.

Most irritating is Cox's voice, which is excessively layered with the kind of effects Julian Casablancas favours. OK, so Cox's wistful yelp is more endearing than the Strokes man's self-satisfied croak, but over the course of 45 minutes, it rapidly gets tiresome. The hefty title track occasionally flirts with the sort of robust rock of the opening two tracks, scrambling to a sort of overdriven finale befitting its title, but with so many of the other pieces sounding either rough, out of place or uninspired (notably 'Pensacola', which sounds like a drab Crazy Horse number recorded during the American Stars'n'Bars sessions), Deerhunter never achieve cohesion of style or energy on Monomania. As ever, there is a talented band at play here, but not one that has the consistency to match the column inches I'm sure it will generate.

Luke
May 1, 2013 5:11pm

Arcade Fire? The Black Keys? Come on now, Joseph. Such comparisons are poppycock, and you know it.

It's certainly a progressive album for the band. More clamorous, yet still accessible and direct. I doubt it has the 'hits' of Halcyon Digest, but it's still a laudable, ambitious release from Cox & co.

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Node
May 1, 2013 5:37pm

I'm a bit annoyed that this review spends as much time talking about other people's opinions of Deerhunter as it does the reviewer's own. One of the reasons I read the Quietus is that you truly don't care what other people think, but the impression the review gives is that the writer cares more about being contrary than he does writing about the music itself.

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emma
May 1, 2013 5:43pm

In reply to Node:

Seconded!

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Joseph Burnett
May 1, 2013 7:07pm

Luke, I take your comments onboard. However, the references to other bands are not intended to be direct comparisons, but rather a statement that, whilst superficially different, Deerhunter on this occasion (and before) made me think, somewhat nebulously, of said bands. My point being that, whilst there may be key differences, most "indie" rock bands sound very similar, which makes sense, as they are operating in a rather narrow field. I know that for many these differences are key but, as someone who listens to a wide range of musics, I can only suggest to all who can be bothered to pay attention (not many, I grant you) to check out some free jazz, or releases on Touch, Type, Mego and Sub Rosa to really hear musical boundaries being pushed back. Equally, the likes of Alphawaves and Black Pus on Thrill Jockey have this year done waaaaay more than Deerhunter in 2013 to twist and expand on rock's archetypes. In comparison, Monomania sounds uninspired and facile, yet I expect it will garner loads more column inches than the aforementioned, which is a shame, as it's not even as good as the band's previous output (I happen to really like Weird Era Cont. and large parts of Microcastle). That was the thrust of my review.

PS- for the record, my main complaint about the album is that, sonically, it's not messy ENOUGH. The first two tracks promise a lot in terms of unkempt noise rock, but the rest of the album sounds pale and unfocused.

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Jeff
May 1, 2013 7:28pm

I hate to complain about a review. It's complaining about an opinion, and IMHO all opinions are (in some way) valid, unless they're blatant misinformed or trolling.

So I won't complain. I like this review, though as soon as you called Bradford Cox irritating I knew for sure that I would not agree with it. I would also not lump Silversun Pickups in with the other bands you mentioned; -that- was truly lazy.

If listened to in the proper context, I think that this could be considered Deerhunter's best work yet. You have to see what they're shooting for. A track that you call drab, Pensacola, is the best example of this. When I saw Atlas Sound in 2012, Cox played and reprised Tonight's The Night (title track) several times much to the chagrin of his audience. Some loved it, some hated it. It was a good rendition, but 4-5 runs of the same cover song in one night... from a prolific songwriter like Cox? That was truly unpredictable, "don't give a shit" behavior.

On my 3rd or 4th listen of Monomania (album) I realized that the songs here are (with at least one exception in "Punk") impressions of various punk/post-punk groups that Cox idolizes. Pensacola, to my ears, is obviously meant to be a bit of a pastiche. "The woman that I loved took another man, oh" ... yeah, Cox hasn't identified as even remotely heterosexual in almost two decades. Back to the Middle is obviously a little Television-like; Leather Jacket II feels like a fuzzed out David Bowie song. (Cox has signed his name "David Bowie" for fans before) Et cetera. Even Lockett gets in on the fun with The Missing, which is easily in the same ballpark as something like Agoraphobia or Desire Lines, and offers an excellent juxtaposition to LJII.

I don't expect Joseph to change his opinion, but it's clear that (as others have stated) that a slightly more balanced disposition would have yielded a more accurate review. I wouldn't want a Deerhunter megafan reviewing it either, TBH! I just listen with my ears, as a fellow musician, and I hear a record that sits just fine alongside Microcastle or Halcyon Digest. Final word: sub-text is important.

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Luke
May 1, 2013 7:43pm

In reply to Joseph Burnett:

Hey Joseph.

As a writer for an online publication that I, for the most part, think is rather great, you need not valorise how brilliant your music taste is. However, I still find it rather banal that you fill your review with tangential references - which you define as nebulous - rather than concrete ones.

I thank you for your reply here, although you fall into a trap of self-flagellating arbitrariness. Yes, the new Deerhunter record is nowhere near as abrasive, radical or ‘out-there’ as the brilliant new ones from Black Pus or Alphawaves, but who was ever really expecting it to be? Monomania also isn’t as beat-heavy as the new Ghostface Killah record; neither is it as cry-wankingly soulful as the new James Blake. And lastly, chalk is not cheese; it’s chalk. Stop trying to turn chalk into cheese, Joseph.

Now then, that really would be monomaniacal.

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Joseph
May 1, 2013 8:31pm

In reply to Luke:

I appreciate your points, Luke, though i disagree. The point is that those records are way more radical than Monomania despite operating in similar fields. So the comparison is a valid one. The ones you make with Blake and Ghostface, who operate in completely different genres, is obviously not, and, if I may, that's a cheap shot.

To put it simply, Monomania is not a very good album that promised otherwise by a band who have produced much more exciting works in the past. But that won't prevent it getting, in my opinion, disproportionate amounts of coverage, and maybe even praise. Of course, this is just my opinion, and, as I gather, most Deerhunter fans will probably disagree.

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Luke
May 1, 2013 10:29pm

In reply to Joseph:

Hey again Joseph (and all who have been reading my persistent bemoaning).

I guess it just comes down to where you draw the line on the arduous genre debate. For me, any connecting threads between Monomania and your other musical references are pedantic. Anyway, I must stop going off piste. I'm no Deerhunter devotee, but I appreciate a lot of what this album has to offer. Is it a better or worse album than their rest? Considering it's only be on stereo rotation for about five days, it's still too early to tell for me. The album will certainly get the 'coverage' you are referring too, but the jury is out on whether you are an anomaly in your disdain and apathy, or in the majority. Personally, I hope for the prior.

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Kyle Kane
May 1, 2013 11:45pm

Deerhunter is truly boring. I've heard all the records, ready to believe the seasonal hype that always attends a new release, and each and every time I find myself disappointed by what a generic, pedestrian sound they present. I've been fooled more than once by Cox and Co. Not any more.

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blem
May 2, 2013 1:39am

Silversun, Black Keys, Flips, Arcade Fire? Something is making you hear this album at the wrong angle. I've only been reading this site for less than a year, but this is the worse review, yet.

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Bartoli
May 2, 2013 9:40am

Deerhunter albums are always different from each other. This happens to be the 'garage rock' one. I completely agree tho that it could ve been a lot more messier than it is which would ve made a good album great in my opinion. Plus the context of the band changing to a five piece and having a new bass player cant be understated. Initially i was worried about that because the bass i thought was the thing that really held together previous albums and made them stand out more than anything else.

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molalatladi
May 2, 2013 9:43am

interesting review. i too go back and forth on Deerhunter, but in the end they're nothing if not entertaining. i'm looking forward to enjoying this record. one line i do feel impelled to call out tho is this one: 'Strokes man's self-satisfied croak', which is clearly written by someone who has misunderstood, or perhaps misjudged, that band entirely, which then makes me question this review. but yeah, whatever, i should probably get back to work or something.

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jk
May 2, 2013 9:44am

i quite liked this record.

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Sean Kitching
May 2, 2013 11:35am

In reply to jk:

I have to say, I really like this album personally. It arrived just as the sun was starting to shine again, which seemed entirely apt. I guess it really is a matter of context. For those who haven't seen them perform, I think it's worth pointing out that they are generally a much more exciting prospect live. I'll be interested to see what is made of the new Thee Oh Sees album, as it's not a million miles away from this, though I expect it might get a slightly more favourable review from Quietus writers.

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John Doran
May 2, 2013 11:54am

In reply to Sean Kitching:

You're a Quietus writer! You can give it a bad review if you like! (Joking aside though: there's no house rule on this stuff. There are loads of reviews I don't agree with and it's my site. The same goes for Luke. It's all down to personal opinion.)

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James
May 2, 2013 12:20pm

In reply to Sean Kitching:

Sean Kitching - I was thinking about Thee Oh Sees as well as I read this review. They are a band who I adore, but who seem to get a complete pass in terms of artistic progression. If you place Help, released in 2009, next to Floating Coffin, I struggle to pick out many differences. Now I'm not saying that this overly fusses me but I find there are double standards at play with expecting Deerhunter to be experimental a la Black Pus.

That said whilst disagreeing on the merit of this album, I can see where the reviewer is coming from. I think it's actually all about expectations, mine were of the band further disappearing down the road of Halcyon Digest and courting the mainstream, therefore the noise and distortion was a pleasant surprise for me. I'm certainly not listening to Deerhunter to scratch any experimental itch these days, they are a band I can put on safe in the knowledge that the vast majority of my friends will like it. A consensus band if you like.

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aaron.
May 2, 2013 12:56pm

This was a pretty weak review, in my opinion. You spent too much time hedging your bets and clearly trying to overcome your initial hump against the band. Cox's vocals "annoying"? I mean, really? Deerhunter would be a totally different band without Bradford Cox. His stage presence and ethereal vocals make the band - he's the sine qua non of their musical equation.

Personally, I think this new album just takes more cues from Cox's last solo album, 'Parallax', than, say, the messier Lotus Plaza stuff. Sure, I like the more chaotic style a lot more - Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. is one of my favourite releases, period - but Deerhunter are still in amazing song-writing form, here. Definitely one of the more interesting bands around today.

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austy
May 2, 2013 1:20pm

the main problem with Deerhunter is that everything they have done (Atlas Sound included) was done better by a band called Bongwater 20 something years ago...

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sean k
May 2, 2013 2:06pm

In reply to austy:

bongwater like deerhunter... really??? wow, i guess some people's ears really are put on differently. love bongwater tho...

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KB
May 2, 2013 4:36pm

"Get in line keep in time with the drum... and don't forget the don't forget the bongwater!"

Love that shit!

Sounds nothing like DH/AS, though. Bongwater were more like Galaxie 500 meets Talking Heads meets 13th Floor Elevators. Moreover, they lacked Deerhunter's sonic stability (Bongwater could go from freak folk, to new wave, to spoken word, to dream pop, in the course of an album side).

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Craig
May 2, 2013 6:15pm

I really like this album but I really like this review as well. It's only right that the journalist shouldn't be carried away with a band's acclaim and give us their honest opinion, which Joseph does.

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James
May 3, 2013 8:19am

Possibly my favourite band over the last 5 years but I have to say I think this is a real step back for them. The stripped back vibe of the album pales in comparison when compared to other recent garage rock albums by the the likes of Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees etc. They've been consistently brilliant since Cryptograms but this seems like a half hearted effort by a band playing well within their own limitations.

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morrissey'sghost
May 9, 2013 11:27pm

Silversun Pickups, Black Keys, the Lips, Arcade Fire? Is this reviewer listening to the same album? Has he actually listened to any of the aforementioned bands? Definitely one of the laziest reviews I've read in while.

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D. Basement
May 10, 2013 10:44am

In reply to Kyle Kane:

Great news Kyle! The new Vampire Weekend CD will be available in Tesco NEXT WEEK!!

Or maybe you could listen to it on SPOTIFY - after all, you're SO "zeitgeist" aren't you, darling?

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David
May 11, 2013 3:26am

The issue with Deerhunter is they don't seem to try different things as a way of challenging themselves or their audience, they just seem to try different things out of boredom or for the sake of saying, or feeling, like they tried something different. "Let's make a sloppy garage rock album!" Agreed Weird Era Cont. is their best album.

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Astrid Proll
May 12, 2013 11:41am

In reply to David:

Like many bands - & certainly most long-running ones (The Fall, for instance) - Deerhunter adopt an "always different, always the same" approach.

The point, surely, is that the songs on Monomania are terrific, regardless of the veneer of sonic muck they've been (intentionally) smeared with.

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