Single-Minded Obsessions, Exaggerated Enthusiasm

OUT & ABOUT|Show Reviews

Deerhunter released their fifth studio album, Monomania, and didn’t play an NYC show.

So Audiofemme went to Washington, DC.Deerhunter at Sixth & I Synagogue


Bradford Cox seems to me at times less like a human being and more like a mutable idea, an enigma, more persona than person.  And after nearly ten years of Cox’s well-documented onstage antics and acerbic attitude I’m almost positive that’s the way he wants it.  The music he’s made, both under his solo moniker Atlas Sound and with his band Deerhunter, has defied definition by drawing from many stylistic elements so as never be pinned to just one genre, but with newest effort Monomania (out May 7th on 4AD) Cox may be making an attempt to affix himself to a grittier, more garage-influenced sound.

This time around we see him ditching the dresses for a get-up one might find on a thrift store mannequin – ratty black wig and snow-leopard print polyester.  He famously debuted this alter-ego (referring to the character a few times in the media as “Connie Lungpin”) during an unhinged performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, walking offstage at the end of the performance with his band still playing, his fingers bandaged and looking bloody (which was a supposed tribute to his father who’d had a woodworking accident a few days prior).  The amount of buzz the performance generated is as good an indicator as any that Cox knows exactly what he’s doing.

There’s a specific segment of the population that can hear a phrase like “nocturnal garage” and go oooooooh! and with Deerhunter fans, the overlap is ridiculous.  When the band’s website announced Monomania describing the material as such and casually hit other reference points like fog machines, leather, and neon, Cox’s single-minded obsession became our own.  Recorded in NYC in January and February by Nicolas Vernhes, the material on Monomania is culled from  a supposed caltalogue of over 600 songs which seems like a lot unless you’re familiar with the way Cox operates.  Just before the record’s completion, the band saw the departure of bassist Josh Fauver, an event that almost shelved the whole project.  Josh McKay stepped up to fill the position, and along with new guitarist Frankie Broyles, the newest incarnation of Deerhunter was born.

With it has come announcements to headline and curate ATP London, where Cox and co. will reportedly play three of their studio albums in entirety and Cox will also perform as Atlas Sound, meaning that Cox is going to be playing pretty much nonstop that entire weekend, and that it’s clear he thinks the only music worth hearing is his own.  The band is also scheduled to play a slew of other festivals, from Austin’s Psychfest to Portugal’s Primavera to NYC’s Governer’s Ball, but no proper tour has yet been announced.  I kept waiting for an announcement about some secret show in Brooklyn’s back alleys, but the closest they were coming was to Sixth & I in DC.  And I had to know.  Would Cox show up as Connie Lungpin?  With or without fingers?  And what would nocturnal garage sound like in a synagogue?

By the time the show rolled around I’d heard the album in its entirety and though it didn’t immediately blow me away, Deerhunter albums almost never do; something about them creeps up on me and then I realize it’s all I’ve been listening to.  More than anything I wanted to hear the songs in a live setting, more raw and more raucous.  The space was gorgeous and the sound super loud, the audience of around 200 seated in pews for the college-radio sponsored show.  The first act, Mas Ysa, was a bedroom-producer type who sampled Counting Crows and worried he was going to cry – needless to say, a bit awkward.  Jackson Scott performed in between – as a band, not as one person, although presumably one of the people in the band was the 20-year-old Asheville songwriter.  While the group started off sounding a little too derivative of the headliners, by the end of the set they offered up uniquely textured shoegaze-tinged stoner jams.  It had to have been one of their first shows and it’s got to be nerve-wracking to open for an act that so clearly falls in line with your influenced, but they managed to pull it together nicely.

Cox, replete in his Fallon get-up, apologized early in Deerhunter’s set for any incongruities, explaining that this was only the band’s second show (meaning with its new members, obviously).  They opened with a droning jam that lead into “Cryptograms” which set the tone for the rest of the night; the majority of the set drew from Monomania, with a few tracks from Halcyon Digest, but everything seemed filtered through Cryptograms-era effects.  Most tracks were lengthened by long, noisy solos and connected by interludes in the same vein.  The sound cascaded in the dramatic, domed space, rumbling guitars causing old woods to vibrate.  The audience didn’t move much, caught in the trance the band was bent on creating.  And Cox was relatively tame, allowing Lockett Pundt to take lead vocals here and there, swinging his guitar haphazardly above his head only sparingly.  They closed the set with “Monomania” and Cox abandoned the stage while his band played on, slinking down a hallway only to return for a blistering fifteen-minute-plus encore of “Lake Somerset”.

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Noticebly absent was anything from Microcastle/Weird Era, but that doesn’t mean the show wasn’t satisfying. The live versions of the new material proved to have the flesh they’ve been accused of lacking, thanks mainly to the vitriolic snarl of Cox’s live vocals, so doused in reverb on the recording.  Overall, Monomania has the messy feel of a careening drunk who passes out before anything catastrophic happens but in that way it’s also less exciting than you want it to be.  As the band’s fifth album, it’s also a bit of a promise that Cox has made to the world – making music is not only the one thing on his mind, but that’s all that ever will be.  No matter what bizarro personas he adopts or madcap stunts he pulls, no matter how he tries to obscure it with the act of performing the part of rock star, he will always be driven to create – nothing else really matters, regardless of who blogs about the charade surrounding it.  The costumes, the masks, the droll, quotable witticisms he tacks to these projects are more a way to amuse himself, and he allows us to participate in that entertainment, questioning what it all means.  But at the core, it’s the music which he’s obsessively written and recorded that will be his legacy.  Bradford Cox does not care if you get the joke, no matter how much time you spend wondering if you’re in on it.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]