Album review: Deerhunter – Monomania

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by Matt Juniper

Artist: Deerhunter
Release: Monomania (2013)
Label: 4AD
Rating: 3 / 5

Deerhunter-MonomaniaBradford Cox is one of those artists you either get or you don’t. Even those that DO get him often didn’t at first. I eventually ended up loving the frantic garage rock sound on ‘Cryptograms’, but my initial reaction was indifference. Only after falling for the surprising move to modern shoegaze on the front half of ‘Microcastle’ did my interest start to grow in Deerhunter’s catalogue. I have now grown fond of most of Deerhunter’s discography as well as albums from side projects Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza.

Come 2010, I thought I had figured Cox & Co. out. But ‘Halcyon Digest’ offered another dramatic shift in sound, primarily the introduction of otherworldly production quite unlike anything I have ever heard before. Lead single Helicopter remains to this day one of the more deeply moving pieces of music I have heard, yet I am really unable to say why.

So, this year’s release of ‘Monomania’ is also surprising in that for the first time in Deerhunter’s career, it really doesn’t include any surprises. This is particularly disappointing given this is one of the longest periods of hiatus the band has gone through between albums in its history. Gone is the uniquely alien sound of ‘Halcyon Digest,’ replaced with lo-fi production and garage rock sound throwing back to the days of ‘Cryptograms. Unlike that record, this doesn’t really stick with any particular theme musically. Deerhunter have always been an album band but this feels more like a collection of songs than a cohesive unit.

That said, even without the consistency of past work, the album isn’t without major strengths; Leather Jacket II turns up the feedback for a rock and roll number that will make your hair stand on end. On Pensacola, Cox does his best Dylan and it works better than I ever could have imagined. The Missing and Nitebike remind us why ‘Halcyon Digest’ was so good  – inserting a healthy dose of raw emotion in to the mix. And title track Monomania packs a ruthless punch, calling to mind the song structure of Deerhunter’s breakout hit Nothing Ever Happened with a more vicious edge.

Listen to Monomania via YouTube below.

The album lags a bit in the middle. It’s odd because these tracks do what Deerhunter often does best – a simple, looping riff that becomes almost hypnotic as it waxes and wanes. Here this formula seems to isolate the listener from the track instead of pulling them in.

The bottom line seems to be that this is a minor work from one of the more important indie rock acts of the last decade. For those still struggling to figure out what the fuss about with Bradford Cox, I would not make ‘Monomania’ a priority. Those already on board will find plenty to enjoy along the way.

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