Let’s be honest: was there really anybody who was waiting with baited breath for Deerhunter’s third full-length, Microcastle? Discounting the antagonistic one-two punch of last year’s Cryptograms and the Fluorescent Grey EP, we’ve received, in the last year and change, the frostily sexual debut from Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound side project and enough demos, mix tapes, and EPs posted to the band’s blog that could easily fill a double-disc set (if not more). It can be hard to get excited about new releases from overwhelmingly prolific bands, no matter how consistently strong the material is.
Of course, being the stubborn, complex individuals that they are, Deerhunter have regardless delivered a true and instant stunner with Microcastle; its sonic debts may run deep to the dual sexual ambiguity and epic bliss of shoegaze and ’50s pop, but the record’s blood is warm with both nostalgia and originality.
Whereas Cryptograms’ closer, “Heatherwood,” acted as the meditative comedown to a spectacularly angst-ridden trip, Microcastle opens with the giant sighs of “Cover Me (Slowly)” -- big, post-climax chords that brim with passive ecstasy and act as a celestial bridge between the two albums. Then, as the metronomic melody of “Agoraphobia” and “Never Stops” briskly passes by, the mood starts getting a little hazy as static skies hang over the final minutes of “Little Kids.” A pensive meditation occurs and anger arises as the record reveals itself as Cryptograms in reverse: a deluge of post-traumatic relief that slowly mutates into a snapshot of noisy sexual and personal frustration found in the whirlwind guitars of “Neither of Us, Uncertainly” and the towering crash of the finale of album closer “Twilight at Carbon Lake”.
One would be tempted to foist a considerable amount of praise on Bradford Cox’s shoulders for Microcastle – after all, those are his wordless hymnals on “Cover Me (Slowly),” those are his elastic vocals on the title track, and lest we forget this guy’s songwriting ability? But that would be shortchanging guitarist Lockett Pundt’s outstanding contributions to “Agoraphobia” and “Neither of Us, Uncertainly.” Undoubtedly the most straightforwardly dreamy duo of tracks on the record, Pundt’s voice reveals a languid, all-too-willing ache to contradict the sound of Cox’s epic confusion.
Those voices set the true tone for Microcastle as a whole: submissive and weary, like the immediate hit of a sexual climax. The bells in “Little Kids,” the vapor-trailed piano lines in “Green Jacket,” that arpeggiated progression near the end of the title track – it’s the little elements in this record that come together to evoke a post-fucking abandonment in the throes of bliss. It may end angrily, but when it’s all said and done, Microcastle is a blissful retreat from the known.
Which is exactly what makes the record’s companion disc, Weird Era Cont., so unbelievably disturbing in its execution -- a B-sides record that sounds less like a group of thrown-together demos and more like a mission statement issued from a determined group of young, fierce individuals. Although it’s not the unified statement that Microcastle is, Weird Era Cont. serves as a fiery, visionary companion; you can hear the band’s gears whirring (sometimes, almost literally) in the sonic flourishes of the sparse, barely ambient “Crickets,” as well as the stuttering fadeout on “Operation” and the persistent thud of “VHS Dream.” Elsewhere, Deerhunter expand on moody 4AD pop and Murmur-era R.E.M. on “Dot Gain” and “Focus Group,” respectively, while the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Loveless burn of “Vox Celeste” and the muted eroticism of “Vox Humana” easily qualify for ‘best song in the band’s catalog.’
My Bloody Valentine, The Birthday Party, The Everly Brothers, Animal Collective, Can, Charlemagne Palestine – a litany of artists make what seem like requisite style-bearing appearances on this two-headed hydra of a record. And just when we think we’ve gotten the consistently shapeshifting, relentlessly moving Deerhunter pinned down, Weird Era Cont. ends with the ten-minute Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins reprise of Microcastle’s “Calvary Scars.” We’re never going to figure these guys out – and as long as they keep making instant classics like this, we really won’t have to.