There can’t be many musicians around at the moment, if any at all, who are as prolific or as universally-loved as Bradford Cox is. Since 2005 we’ve had four Deerhunter long-players (including Weird Era Cont., often dismissed as merely a bonus disc to Microcastle but arguably their finest), two EPs, two Atlas Sound records and a whole host of free tracks and rarities made available on the Atlas Sound/Deerhunter blog. Along the way there’s been scarcely a bad word said about any of it, with even bass-heads who’ve forsaken the six-string making an exception for Cox and co. And that’s still leaving out Lotus Plaza, the side-project of guitarist Lockett Pundt, who also plays a vital role in creating that now-familiar Deerhunter sound, a mixture of strung-out fuzz, floating ambience, and propulsive krautrock.
Halcyon Digest doesn’t break any new boundaries for the band: it’s very much in the vein of its ‘official’ predecessor (perhaps a bit more accessible and evenly-paced), veering between dreamy atmospherics and upbeat, jangly guitar-pop. However, more of the same is quite welcome when a band have got their craft down as well as Deerhunter do. Opening track ‘Earthquake’ is a perfect example: confidently taking time to unfold over its five-minute running time, it’s a layered, drowsy-sounding song, seeming to swirl slowly around your brain, rippling guitar effects adding to the sense of disorientation. Lead single ‘Revival’ is a close cousin of last year’s ‘Rainwater Cassette Exchange’, utilising the same jaunty rhythm and retro-pop influences, while ‘Sailing’ is a reflective, sparse number with a jaded-sounding Cox vocal that gives way to gentle falsetto cooing.
Pundt steps up to the plate with the fuzzily anthemic ‘Fountain Stairs’ and the album’s centrepiece, ‘Desire Lines’, which sees the band letting loose in much the same way they did on Microcastle’s ‘Nothing Ever Happened’, the song developing into an absorbing, seamless jam at the three-minute mark. Elsewhere, ‘Coronado’ is a rollicking rave-up that adds saxophone to the Deerhunter palette, and of all the tracks here it’s the one that sounds most unlike any of their previous material.
The best, however, is saved for last: closing track ‘He Would Have Laughed’ is dedicated to the late Jay Reatard (a close friend and collaborator with Cox), and it makes for the most exquisite of elegies: the singer’s vocals seem to drift blissfully into the ether, framed by a shimmering instrumental backdrop, while the lyrics develop into a delirious stream-of-consciousness. It’s one of the most affecting moments the band have committed to tape, and it brings to a close their most warm, welcoming LP so far. Long may they run.