Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest - Review
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critics' view

The law of diminishing returns should by all rights apply to Atlanta, Georgia’s Deerhunter. Halcyon Digest is their fourth LP since 2005. In addition to those albums proper, they’ve released two EPs, frontman Bradford Cox and guitarist Lockett Pundt have released solo albums (Cox has even found time for two), and 2008’s Microcastle was repackaged with an extra full length album, Weird Era Cont. And that’s not quite all, as several unofficial tracks and mixes have been released onto the ‘net via the band’s own blog.

Churning out that much music with machine-like regularity should result in a dip in quality. Yet it hasn’t appeared. Instead, Deerhunter have continued to evolve and they’ve done it without losing their innovative, defiant spirit or knack for crafting swirling guitar pop epics and reverb drenched soundscapes. Curiously, Deerhunter’s forward-looking evolution is fuelled largely by nostalgia, one seeped in childhood memories and the joys of discovering music prior to the push a button, out it pops gratification of the MP3 era.

Halcyon Digest is no exception to this oxymoronic rule. Inspired in part by old DIY band flyers and early 80s art-rock acts, the album is another step away from the ambient punk and noise rock tags that followed the band in the wake of their early LPs. The propulsive kosmische beats and noisy tics that first brought Deerhunter to the attention of an international cadre of music bloggers are now completely gone. Don’t Cry still carries the guitar fuzz of past work but it’s the echoing, empty terrains explored on Sailing and Cox’s aching croon on Basement Scene – a swaying ode to the perpetually fading idealism of DIY music scenes – that captures the wistful tone of Halcyon Digest.

Not that this makes Halcyon Digest an exercise in navel gazing. The Pundt-penned Desire Lines offers up an anthemic burst of chiming guitars and soaring vocals. It’s one of the album’s highlights and a reminder that the quiet guitarist’s talents are perhaps every bit the equal of the more boisterous Cox. He Would Have Laughed, an emotive tribute to Jay Reatard, is a glorious, seven-minute closer that holds its head high as Cox ruminates over the death of the young garage-rocker against a wall of looping beats and guitars.

Throughout all this, though, lies a sense of warm experimentation that should feel familiar to fans of Deerhunter’s unique brand of ambience-loving indie-rock. Halcyon Digest is simply another solid entry in the discography of a mighty band. A band whose accomplishments to date have, in the larger scheme of things, already made that question about diminishing returns completely irrelevant.

Charles Ubaghs
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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