When Monomania was introduced to the world via a wilfully bizarre Bradford Cox-penned press release, it would seem that Deerhunter were creating something difficult with a capital ‘D’, ears were set to unlistenable as words such as ‘avant-garde’ started floating about. It was supposed to be an angular, bratty middle finger to what had gone before, a back-to-basics boot camp fleeing the structure and openness of 2010’s Halcyon Digest.
The title track that was unleashed as a taster of their ‘nocturnal garage’ was all brutal fuzz and vicious feedback. Gone were the ambient cooing and lulling doo-wop of previous albums. This was Deerhunter rattled down to the core, distorted and direct but featuring a peerless, perfect melody from Cox, lifting it skywards from its grubby surroundings as he wistfully crooned, ‘Send my heart to the sea / Oh, the empty sea’ like Sonic Youth channelling Denis Wilson.Unlike their noisefink counterparts, Deerhunter’s bleeding heart was not fully scabbed over.
Deerhunter can never be unlistenable or as gleefully obscure as they assume they are, as Cox can’t help himself. However much he tries, he can’t escape his undeniable knack for weaving impossibly addictive melodies. They plague him like a living nightmare as he tries to hide then beneath the squall of buzzing guitars, beneath an unending dirge, beneath the guise of the insouciant attitude, they always find him, breaking free of all restraints to shine, perfectly and proudly centre stage.
Monomania is full of these moments, it could never be the simple head-down-punk-out album it purports to be (all Ramone shapes and Bo Diddley sharpness) as it includes a song as tangled up in melody as the stunning ‘The Missing’, which flows freely in the effortless, dreamlike way all the truly mesmerising Deerhunter tracks do, songs like ‘Spring Hall Convert’ or ‘Desire Lines’, it reels you in like a cartoon moon on a fishing line and spins a delicate web of hypnotic guitar riffs and a giant melancholic chorus that drips with Cox’s own brand of bruised emotion.
This is closely followed by its polar opposite, the oddly jaunty ‘Pensacola’ a song so breezy and knockabout it could be something Cox jotted down on a studio toilet-break such is its easiness. Whereas ‘Dream Captain’ ploughs the well-trodden Deerhunter field of the jangly but discordant pop song with Cox’s shrieking rasp in full effect.
The stark difference of sound between each track makes Monomania more like a schizophrenic playlist than a cohesive album, which is in keeping with previous albums like Microcastle and Weird Era Continued. As the band jump between the likes of the scuzzy ‘Leather Jacket II’ and the dazzling dour-pop of ‘Sleepwalking’, they are forever at odds with themselves, making every album a battle for each of those Deerhunters’ survival: the loud, brash and scabrous one, and the quiet, pained and longing one. Thankfully, neither will ever fully win.
There will always be the dichotomy within Bradford Cox as a songwriter, someone who can create such transcendental breath-taking moments of beauty and twisted, painful odes to the reality of human decay and mental submission. Even within the title track, Cox cannot find peace in the transformative nature of love and buries this in the corporeal and the finality of the physical life: ‘And in my head / There’s something rotten dead / I can’t compete with her / Let me be released from this’.
Monomania is the pure brittle of ‘Lake Somerset’ funnelled through the aching desperation of ‘Calvary Scars’. It is not the brave new world they wished to forge but a familiar Deerhunter landscape, a terrain that is never straight forward or easy but a journey that is always worth the effort to undertake.