Category Archives: Deerhunter

In the flesh: Deerhunter

Deerhunter @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, 12 June 2009

deerhunter1910_450x300

This was Deerhunter’s first visit to Australia and anticipation in the jam packed, sold out Corner Hotel was intense. The place was full by the time second support act Beaches took to the stage and did their swamp rock thang. Judging by the number of nodding heads in the audience, Beaches have a hold on plenty of people’s hearts.

Bradford Cox and co. arrived with no hello or fuss. We barely had time to cheer before they launched into Cover me Slowly, the opening track off their most recent and critically praised album, Microscastles. The sound was gross; Bradford’s mic wasn’t working and the band were complaining about fold-back issues. A few songs in all of this had been rectified and the band hit their stride.

Deerhunter straddle a fine line between retro pop and ephemeral noise, and tonight they gripped both aspects of their sound and merged them into a 90 minute journey. Taking cue from their fucking amazing Cryptograms record, Deerhunter linked every song in their set with experiments in guitar based noise and self-sampled montages of Bradford’s voice. Every time the crowd started to fidget during one of these jams Bradford would nod his head and the band would kick into another pop-rock gem.

They mined all of their recorded output with the exception of their debut, and for the most part the tunes were richer and heavier. The bass hook on Nothing ever Happened was gutsy as fuck; they cranked up the jerky anxiety of Lake Somerset; Hazel St was as sweet and syrupy as ever; and Fluorescent Grey became a dream-like 10 minute jam. The highlight was the title track from their latest album, which appeared from left field midway through the set. Its melancholic intro,  featuring Badford solo with his his guitar, gave Deerhunter’s frontman the chance to prove his chops. And boy did he shine, singing with such heartfelt sincerity that the crowd started cheering.

IMG_0375 You could argue that Bradford’s a control freak, but watching him live you can’t deny that he has some serious skills. Besides taking on vocal duties and much of the lead guitar work, he also used pedals to sample and place effects on his own voice, and trigger some of the incidental samples that appear through their recorded output. Dude’s brain must be working at a million miles per hour while he plays but he never missed a beat.

It was clear that Bradford was driving the show. The rest of the band acted upon his signals, and late in the set it appeared he was even in control of what songs were played and when. For me this is where the show failed a little. The dynamics on stage were odd to say the least. Guitarist Lockett Pundt stood side-on to the audience for the entire show, looking bored. A couple of times I saw him take a deep breath and lean his head back as if he couldn’t wait for the ordeal to be over. Between songs, Moses on drums had a lost puppy look on his face, waiting for orders from the top dogs. And while bassist Josh Fauver was the most animated of the group, he was preoccupied by people back stage for the whole show, and keep talking to Pundt during songs (and Pundt continued to remain emotionless during these conversations). Bradford stayed with his array of pedals.

I can only imagine how hard it must be in a band where one person (i.e. Bradford) is responsible for all songwriting duties and ends up as the front man. The Smashing Pumpkins are a perfect example of this, and there was a touch of that situation in this show. As if the three remaining members didn’t have enough of a relationship with these songs to tap into and let go. Which meant we in the audience had difficulty getting lost in the experience too. It was this minor gripe that made the show really good, but not quite great.

Top Ten of 2008

What better way to kick off this blog, then to recap your humble author’s top ten for 2008?

During 2007 I was all about exploring the weirder and noisier side of the musical spectrum. However, 2008 heralded a return to the joy of…well…actual song writing. Which isn’t to say there aren’t any blackened pits of noise in the following list of favourite albums released in 2008.

Bloc Party – Intimacy (Wichita/Vice)

bloc-party

I’m not gonna’ make any bones about my love of Bloc Party’s pop. If it makes you feel tough than go ahead and tease the band for being a success. Deep down you know Bloc Party channel the best of British post punk from the 80s and give it a light coat of poptastic plastic without losing their balls. They can write a hook like nobody’s business and then, in the blink of an eye kick your ass with a rhythmic, effects laden freak-out. Another gem from an exciting act flirting with the mainstream.

Fuck Buttons – Street Horrsing (ATP Recordings)

fuck-buttonsWhere the fuck (pardon the pun) did these guys come from? Skull crushing electronic drone and tribal drums, that waltz with music box melodies and Fischer Price screams. It’s heavy as fuck, but somehow it conjures up a kaleidoscope of sunflowers, My Little Ponies and Rothko. I’ve played this record to the bone, and their performance at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival on Mt Buller was mind blowing.

Foals – Antidotes (Warner Music/Transgressive Records)
foals_antidotesReading through Mojo one day I noticed a tiny blurb about Foals in a list of ‘up and comers’. The raggedy looking kids in the accompanying photo intrigued me so I picked up a copy of this, their debut album and freaked the fuck out. The rhythm section is all reggae, ska and dub jams but the intricate and multi layered guitar harmonies are the bastard sons of some bong-misted (dare I say it) math rock outfit. It’s dreamy but danceable, somewhat earnest, but oh so fun.

Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. (Kranky)
deerhunterI love a band that evolves over the course of time, and on their third release Deerhunter steer further away from their jangly noise beginnings and deeper into 60s pop. Albeit a slightly obtuse take on 60s pop, where the sun peeks out through passing clouds, but its catchy and hummable nonetheless. It’s also a major feat that Microcastles was released with a second disc of material, Weird Era Cont. that eclipses the tunes on the original album.

Sunn O))) – Domkirke (Southern Lord)
sunno_domkirkeThis amazing live, limited addition, vinyl only album was a true highlight of 2008. Recorded in a Norwegian cathedral, and featuring Earth’s Steve Moore on organ, Domkirke takes the surreal and meditative nature of Sunn O))) to a new place. Cloaks donned, and dry ice aplenty, OMally and Anderson continue to replace the guitar with whatever else they can find to conjure the low-end frequencies they cherish. Shifting horns, vibrating bass, organs and electronic squall are given plenty of room to bathe in the cathedral’s acoustics. The guitars, when they do arise, are reminiscent of the atonal twang OMally plays with in his side project KTL. The end result is a much warmer and mysterious Sunn O))) than you might be used to.

Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (Southern Lord)
earthSpeaking of Earth, this gorgeous album fell under the radar upon its release. Although it continues the desert and tumbleweeds theme of its predecessor, 2005’s Hex, the arrangements on Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull are nowhere near as sparse. A broader scope of instruments and guitar sounds makes for a much fuller sound. Achingly slow, totally lush; this leaves their early drone records for dead.

Snowman – The Horse, the Rat and the Swan (Dot Dash Recordings)
snowmanThe Cramps have mated with the Birthday Party and produced Aussie band Snowman. The group’s third album is their strongest to date. Dark, brooding and violent rock that twists and turns where you least expect it. Even their ‘ballads’ are threatening. The first few tracks are relentless, but the ride smooths out into a creepy trip through a midnight swampland. Forget The Horrors, turn up Snowman.

Gojira – The way of all flesh (Listenable Records)
gojiraThis is my first foray into French metal band, Gojira and I’m completely hooked. It’s awesome to find a metal band that’s NOT banging on about the typical metal topics, Gojira are passionate environmentalists and they’re pissed off about the state of the earth. At times they have the powerful groove of classic Pantera, sometimes they get all technical like Meshuggah, but the dual guitar harmonies also give their sound an old school flavour. Awesome driving music.

Lightspeed Champion – Falling off the Lavender Bridge (Domino Recordings)
lightspeedI know little about Dev Hynes’ much-hyped previous band The Testicicles. I picked up his latest project, Lightspeed Champion based on a favourable review and discovered a real gem. The folk-tinged tunes are quirky in a Pavement way, and his geeky, self-conscious lyrics are endearing. He sights Korn, Hip Hop and Crowded House as sources of inspiration which makes me desperate to hear what he comes up with next.

Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna (Warp Records)
ganggangI was introduced to Gang Gang Dance only recently and am currently devouring this album and their back catalogue. Imagine the sound of two cars crashing; one being New York’s Hip Hop scene, and the other New Yorks 80’s No Wave scene. Throw in some world music and that’s kinda what Gang Gang Dance sound like. Oh, and sometimes they sound like Coctaeu Twins. Fucking amazing.

Honourable mentions
AutechreQuaristice (Warp)
Kings of LeonOnly by Night (RCA Records)
Genghis TronBoard up the House (Relapse)
Sonic YouthSY8 Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth (SYR)
Atlas SoundLet the Blind Lead Those who can see but cannot Feel (Kranky)