Deerhunter is a four-piece indie rock group from Atlanta, Georgia, whose music has defied any definite genre over the past 10 years of their existence. Is it noise rock? Art rock? Shoegaze? Post-punk? The band themselves describe their sound as “ambient punk”, which is probably as close as you can get to describing the sound. Their music has gone through many different stages, such as the experimental post-punk revival sounds of their debut album, the partly ambient, partly indie pop sounds of “Cryptograms”, and the minimally processed sounds of “Microcastle”. On “Halcyon Digest”, however, there is a particular sound that calls to mind the pop harmonies of The Beach Boys, the reverb-saturated atmospheres of Joy Division, and the noisiness of My Bloody Valentine, while altogether keeping a indie punk sound. There are also some very different directions in instrumentation that Deerhunter hasn’t taken before, which adds to the uniqueness of the sound. What is certain is this: “Halcyon Digest” is one unique album.
“Earthquake” begins with the slow beat of a drum machine, before going into a beautiful chorused guitar arpeggio and Bradford Cox’s saturated vocals. The ambient effects here are just stunning, as is the different percussion that goes on throughout, which makes it a great intro to the album. “Don’t Cry” is a more upbeat rock piece, featuring overdrived guitars and hard-hitting drums underneath Cox’s yet again saturated vocals, which here sounds very reminiscent of Joy Division with the amount of reverb that is put on to create an atmosphere. “Revival”, the first official single from the album, is a more pop-like piece, which sounds almost like surf rock or folk rock, but with the eccentric touch of the strange guitar effects, interesting percussion samples, and an electronic synth underneath. Cox’s vocals here, along with the guitar arpeggios, are stunningly beautiful, which makes this a great single overall. “Sailing” contains a slow guitar progression, strange sound effects, and Cox’s reverb-laden vocals, and this combination really makes it sound as though the listener is on the water somewhere, sailing slowly. The slow and smooth beat enters in around a minute into the song, and Cox’s falsetto-like vocals around the end sounds like an unreleased Beach Boys song. A perfect contrast to the already upbeat songs on the album. “Memory Boy”, the third official single, is very upbeat, with a beat and harmony that is reminiscent of the 60s, but the sound is still very 21st century, with the use of strange instrumentation and the hard rock grooves. The song, however, is the shortest on the album, at about only 2 minutes and 9 seconds, before leading into “Desire Lines”, a punk rock song containing clean, reverb-laden guitar licks and beautiful vocals, and in the second half of the song, an extended guitar solo takes place, alternating between a clean, chorusy reverberated sound, as well as a strong, distorted sound.
“Basement Scene” is a slower, dream-like track contrasting “Memory Boy” and “Desire Lines”, with a “pop” sound, haunting vocals, and some psychedelic guitar stuff going on in the mix. If you could imagine this song being played in a 1950s love scene, it’d be a perfect fit, considering the almost rock n’ roll oldies sound that the song takes, despite the obvious 21st century elements. “Helicopter”, the second official single, is the song that got me into this album in the first. The Latin-like groove at the beginning, the beautifully pitch-shifted guitar, the cleaner vocals, as compared to the rest of the album, the strange watery sound effects throughout the song, and the surf-rock, almost shoegaze sound in the chorus and ending make this a perfect single. I’d like to think of this song as surf rock on acid, because it almost perfectly describes the sound. What Brian Wilson might have imagined when on drugs (which I don’t know if he ever did take drugs while being in The Beach Boys, but if he did, well, I think this song would have appeared in his mind during one of those trips). “Fountain Stairs” is yet another upbeat song that sounds closer to The Beatles or The Who rather than a psychedelic ambient band, and for the first time to date in Deerhunter’s music, a saxophone is featured prominently in the breaks, which is more or less inspired by The Rolling Stones. “Coronado” is more or less the same style as “Fountain Stairs”, except that here, it’s a little heavier, with saturated vocals and distorted saxophone solos inspired by The Rolling Stones’ “Exile On Main Street”, and contains some funky piano lines as well. The final track, “He Would Have Laughed”, which is the longest track running 7 and a half minutes in length, contains more pitch-shifted, delay and reverb laden ambient guitar, a smooth drum beat, and vocals reminiscent of Surfer Blood’s “Swim”, with its reverberation and harmony. Towards the end, a very beautiful guitar solo is played, along with more smooth rock beats, and some rhythm guitar, building to a climax, and then dying slowly into a wall of psychedelic reverb, in which the song ends suddenly in the middle of the pitch-shifted guitar arpeggio, and so does the album.
Overall, “Halcyon Digest” is one of the best indie rock albums of 2010, while also making a great start to the new decade. The songs, which combine indie rock, post-punk, dream pop, shoegaze, ambient, and surf rock, are all stunning and truly make for some great music to play while sitting down at the beach, watching the waves go in and out, as does the music in somewhat the same manner. The three singles, “Helicopter”, “Revival”, and “Memory Boy”, are all equally great, while “Fountain Stairs” and “Coronado” contains some really cool distorted saxophone solos reminiscent of The Rolling Stones. The album is like surf rock on acid, where though the traditional rock songs do come through, Deerhunter’s array of effects and processors turn the simple rock songs into psychedelic masterpieces, and that alone makes it just a fun album to listen to, and a fun experience overall. Highly recommended listening.
Album: Halcyon Digest
Genre: Indie rock/punk/psychedelic pop
Released in 2010 by 4AD Records
Available now at all major retailers!