NPR has been great about satisfying my every curiosity lately. It seems like half the time I find myself waiting those last few days for the glorious release of a great band’s new album, NPR is already streaming it for free. God bless you NPR; you are so much more than the bland news radio that so many people think you are. The latest streaming gift from National Public Radio is none other than Deerhunter’s brand new Halcyon Digest, and my first few listens were utterly ear melting. Deerhunter has changed their game up significantly on this release by sanding most of the hard edges off of their sound and creating something that will forever alter our perceptions of their music.
I am most certainly a fan of their previous albums Cryptograms and Microcastle, but Halcyon Digest is a bit of a divergence from their old ambient-punk roots. The beauty in their new music rises up through it’s skin, and without even examining their new album in depth it is by far the most pleasing to the ear of all of their work to date. The quartet still incorporate some intriguing elements of ambient rock, such as the light echoing guitars and eerie samples that seem oddly familiar, though very difficult to really put a finger on in the opening track “Earthquake.” The first single “Revival,” which was released months ago to get fans salivating for the album, is probably the most playful track of Halcyon. The vocal harmonies and upbeat drums mix like a fine cocktail, and I’m pretty sure that you can even hear a washboard in there somewhere, which for some reason puts a big smile on my face. Bradford Cox actually shares vocals much more with guitarist Lockett Pundt this time around, and although they have very different vocal dynamics the album maintains a certain feeling throughout, and the trading of duties never interrupts the flow of the record. Its actually quite amazing how they can make all the new quirks that have been incorporated into the album sound so polished, with even the strangest additions sounding perfectly at home in the music. The saxophone in “Coronado” is probably my favorite example of that, and it’s impressive how effortlessly they can make that incorporation sound in a song that could have certainly been approached without any wind instruments. The album end with the melancholy “He Would Have Laughed,” which reflects on the pains of growing older and growing bored, and was recorded as a tribute to the late Jay Reatard who passed away earlier this year. It’s certainly tough stuff to deal with, and you can really feel that turmoil and confusion in the lyrics. The song ends mid-note, leaving you to feel the sting of the tragic parallel.
Halcyon Digest is a shockingly beautiful album. It sounds as if Deerhunter simultaneously mellowed-out and became more ambitious than ever before. Nothing ever sounds forced, even though their music has a whole new dimension of complexity and tiny nuances to keep you’re ears guessing. However, the finished product is so glossy that you could listen to it a hundred times and not even realize that those nuances exist and are exactly what makes their music sound so good. Deerhunter took the lofty expectations that everyone had based on their previous albums and completely surpassed them with what is arguably their career defining work.