So, as it turns out, I’ve been worrying about this album for absolutely nothing. I’ll admit: the title track/first single did not inspire confidence in me. While the track has since grown on me, I had visions of a more streamlined, mainstream-oriented Deerhunter, built for play on terrestrial radio. While this is about a quarter true, it’s not as big a deal as I’d fretted about; it’s more streamlined, sure, but it’s still very recognizably a Deerhunter album. However, where previous pinnacles of 2000s underground rock like Microcastle reveled in hazy drifts of experimental noise and the filtered, dreamy vocals of frontman Bradford Cox, Monomania places the sonics front and center. This is really the only immediately off-putting feature of the entire record; once “The Missing” kicks in you realize that nothing has really changed about the band’s fundamental sound. There is still the insistence on looping, hypnotic riffs and sighing vocal melodies; it’s just the presentation that’s shifted to the forefront. The signature gallop of “Sleepwalking” could be slotted directly onto Weird Era (or, really, Microcastle’s “Nothing Ever Happened”) and I swear that I heard “T.H.M.”‘s primeval ghost floating around the middle of Halcyon Days. Bradford Cox brings about the most direct change – the effect of cutting the summery haze from his vocals is jarring but oddly satisfying. For the first time, the band approaches what could almost pass for a traditional rock and roll type of sound. “Pensacola” is a great example of this kind of change: the way the guitars play off of the drums is classic Deerhunter, but with a subtle difference that actually summons Neil Young out of his hoary past and makes him dance with Cox like they were upstate New York hippies on some private stretch of drug-addled land. It’s like Deerhunter covering the Grateful Dead covering Deerhunter (check out the beginning of “Dream Captain” and tell me differently), or, in the case of the punishing “Leather Jacket II”, the best moments of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with the storm and explosion of Slaughterhouse-era Ty Segall. Deerhunter sells their souls to rock and roll? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.
FINAL MARK: A