Atlanta-based Deerhunter have seen their fair share of accolades over the last few years. Being a fan myself, I can admit I was excited to hear that frontman Bradford Cox was working on some solo material, to be released under the pseudonym Atlas Sound. A little research, however, reveals I am late to the game, as Cox has been working under this name for quite some time. I’m old -- get off my tip. Nevertheless, Cox, an extremely fascinating individual, makes great music while leaving a trail of controversy along the way -- he always seems to find people who want to gossip about his body image, sexual preference, and even potential drug habits. And why shouldn’t they; there is obviously a lot to talk about.
In a society where image is important, Cox can visually push the envelope in almost any direction. His frame is tall and waif-like, which gets him plenty of gawkers, especially when he’s donning a dress. What makes him even more captivating, though, is that his music does not always accurately articulate what his outward antics might suggest. With his first solo album, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, Cox takes us in a slightly different direction than Deerhunter. Where Deerhunter focus on post-punk tempos built around atmospheric backdrops, Atlas Sound’s focus is more on pop atmosphere. This ultimately affords us clearer insight into Cox’s inner emotions.
Let the Blind Lead is the sound of someone who has made every effort to let us inside; we can finally move past the surface and talk about what is really important here: the music. The first track, a short story about a ghost named Charlie, is not indicative of what the rest of the album sounds like. It’s more an introduction. If you’re not hooked by the end of this song, wait. It's followed by “Recent Boardroom,” a lofty pop song with a perfect balance of flowing bass and guitar riffs. Some other highlights are “Quarantined,” with its Kid A-like synthetic meanderings that eventually turn into something more reverent. The standout track, “Scraping Past,” also would not have been out of place on any of Radiohead’s last four releases. Habit has now forced me to keep this song on repeat several times before moving to the next track.
To look at it another way, Let the Blind Lead is very similar to viewing a Chuck Close painting. Each song has a distinctive quality that stands on its own. However, when you back away from the album as a whole, you begin to see that all these individual elements unify to make a greater holistic product. One song may focus heavily on atmosphere and introspection, but the very next one will be completely different. The title (and final) track clearly represents the reclusive elements of the album, while “Ativan,” with its reverb-drenched surf guitar and ’60s pop tempo, is an example of Cox taking a more extroverted stance.
No matter how you approach Let the Blind Lead, it is obvious that Bradford Cox knew exactly what he was doing when he sat down to make this album. The cover art portrays a skinny, faceless young boy being comforted by two adults. Once again, this leads me to believe these songs represent an introspective collection of feelings and emotions that needed a voice. What better way for Bradford Cox to show the world he has what it takes to put the gossipers to rest than to release an incredibly beautiful collection of songs? The only controversy he’s liable to stir up now is people talking about his remarkable new album and wondering whether or not he will be touring their city any time soon.