Album review: Deerhunter – "Halcyon Digest"

Deerhunter truly lives up to the hype with their much anticipated “Halcyon Digest”. This latest release takes a sharp left turn from previous work, like the album oriented “Cryptograms”. Where that album relied much more heavily on ambiance, spacious sounds and atmospheres, “Halcyon Digest” stands as more of a collection of songs with great hooks and flat-out catchy tunes with classic songwriting rather than an album length experiment. This is an album of much more palatable music that is less confrontational in its sound than their previous work.

This time around the band is clearly influenced by the sounds of groups from the 60’s. There are obvious nods to groups like The Kinks in some of the more up-tempo, driving songs like “Memory Boy”. In that way they have taken the same route as MGMT, turning to the sound of their influences, worn proudly on their sleeves, rather than forging ahead in their formerly bold originality. “Basement Scene” takes a very familiar motive from the Roy Orbison song “All I Have to do is Dream” and runs with it. Cox’s voice trails off, melding with the feedback echo in a blurred crescendo of sound.

The songs throughout are very tuneful and vibrant, which stands in contrast to their former concentration on the more ambient elements of their sound. This is not to say that they have changed completely to an unrecognizable sound, Deerhunter still manage to pack in some hypnotic allure into these tunes. But there is a new connection made. This connection links the band to their influences, which gives the audience a better picture of where it is that they are coming from.

Deerhunter - "Halcyon Digest"

The elements of ambiance and spacey, disconnected arrangements are not completely gone. “He Would Have Laughed” combines arty atmospherics with the newly dialed up accessibility as does “Sailing” with its gentle guitar and background sounds. The slap-back echo that envelops the vocals, with the doubled guitar tone combine to become a sort of characteristic sound for the album. These effects are especially noticeable on opening track “Earthquake!” and album closer “He Would Have Laughed”, making good bookends for the album. They take out their Kinks influence on “Memory Boy” which is an upbeat, forward driving and catchy song, and immediately contrast it with the noticeably darker “Desire Lines” and its gently sung vocals, arpeggiated guitar and echoes of background singing creeping in to create a dense, layered effect. “Desire Lines” lapses into a hypnotic repeated guitar outro that continuously builds for a few minutes only to be stopped when it is faded out and left to linger in your memory.

Singer Bradford Cox’s voice is a little deeper at spots now, and there is the slightest hint of rasp in his voice that adds an element of roughness to even the sweetest tunes on “Halcyon Digest”. Also, adding to their new sound is the addition of a saxophone to “Coranado” which brings to it an interesting old school rock ‘n roll color. They also show that their experimental side has not gone away with 2 part songs “Don’t Cry” and “He Would Have Laughed”. The former song collapsing in on itself into a slow acoustic ending while the latter develops further after you begin to think that the song was coming to an end.

“Halcyon Digest” is a great album that brings together elements of the bands’ influences and works them in with their own experimental sound. The emotional content of each song really grabs the listener and won’t let go, there is a strong connection made here, a connection with the past and a connection between the band and their audience.

Listen: Revival

Watch the official video for “Helicopter”: