The title of Georgia-based indie outfit Deerhunter’s sixth full length LP, Monomania, was borne as a reflection of frontman Bradford Cox’s obsessive traits, specifically in regards to music: in a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Cox stated “I guess my time as a musician has gone by so fast that I realized that I have no personal life. The other guys in Deerhunter, they all found things. And I just have monomania. I always will. I’m obsessive about one thing, that there’s one thing that’s going to make me happy and it’s making music, or there’s one thing that’s going to make me happy and it’s this person”. Certainly Cox’s self-prescribed case of monomania has helped cement his projects–Deerhunter and solo-project, Atlas Sound–into what many may argue are the most entertaining, vividly imaginative and wildly successful indie rock groups of the past ten years.
Deerhunter has surely traveled a long and windy road since the 2005 release of Turn It Up, Faggot and Monomania sees a bit of a shift in sonic aesthetic. A departure from the dream pop-y shoegaze sound of 2010’s fantastically lavish Halcyon Digest, this album shows the group exploring a grittier, noisier side. Despite it being decidedly absent of Digest’s pop sensibilities, Monomania is indeed progression: steeped in a well-rounded yet rough garage rock style, Cox’s distorted vocals are mixed very high above the instrumentation allow him to flex his deft abilities as a highly sensitive and intellectually introspective lyricist. Many tracks on the album are successful, catchy anthemic indie rock pieces–however, when juxtaposed with Halcyon Digest, Monomania at times appears decidedly lackluster and at its worst, leaves a listener longing for Digest’s sweeter taste.
The opening track, ‘Neon Junkyard’, has a catchy vocal track that is accompanied by the constant presence of Cox’s strange and oddly-psychedelic and distorted throat growling. The aforementioned track, along with the following song, ‘Leather Jacket II’, are aggressive installations to the Deerhunter catalogue whose thumping bass and fuzzy guitars appear as odes to their earlier releases. A return to form is found in the toned down ‘The Missing’, a great track in that it feels like a natural progression from Digest contrasted immediately by the fourth track ‘Pensacola’, which reads more as a 60’s roadtrip blues anthem. ‘Dream Captain’ sonically bleeds its 70’s influence , the vocals even going as far to borrow from Queen’s magnum opus, Bohemian Rhapsody for a chorus of: “I’m a poor boy from a poor family”. ‘Blue Agent’is far more toned down than the album’s opening tracks, seeped with attitude as the former sees Cox singing over a funky guitar riff “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 “I’m a blue light, I’m a crippled coward/Shining out in the night”. ‘THM’ is a mellow track with wonderfully poppy sensibilities and a great melodic hook, only hindered slightly by the ear assault that is Cox’s sporadic vocal track. ‘Sleepwalking’ is a fittingly atmospheric track; a reverb-soaked guitar line makes this a thoroughly modern indie track. ‘Back to the Middle’ is a blissfully self-loathing super fun dance track–enough said. ‘Monomania’ is mobilized as the apotheosis of the album’s distorted punk-y aesthetic, with the latter portion of the song culminating in an almost 2 minute sequence of Cox’s distorted chanting of “mono, monomania”.
Monomania is, to say the least, a schizophrenic album: part loudly, distorted noise rock, part mellow indie pop, with the toned down moments clashing at times with the bolder and louder ones. Despite a few moments which could be misunderstood as lackluster, Deerhunter’s latest cacophonous release ultimately comes across as bold and impressive. Influences from glam artists like Bowie meld successfully with the fuzzy noise produced by the late 70s and 80s. Their self-ascribed ‘ambient punk’ is seemingly less applicable with Deerhunter’s latest release. The album’s minor misgivings are eclipsed wholly by its outstanding moments. Make no mistake, Deerhunter still has it and I, for one, certainly hope that Bradford’s monomania continues.
Monomania is officially released on May 7, but can be streamed online on the Exclaim! and NPR websites.