Album Review: Deerhunter – Monomania

I was first introduced to Deerhunter with their 2008 release, Microcastle, which was a deliciously fun, noisy record full of dreamy guitars and a cohesive amount of pop. It was a grand album that gradually got dreamier with each track it threw out, echoing its strings and sometimes whispering vocals that seemed to get lost within the dreamlike presentation. This band was something of its own category, blending shoegaze and indie rock into a perfectly concise sound.

Flash forward five years later, Deerhunter and frontman Bradford Cox have created a significantly solid discography. As a group, Deerhunter has released five studio albums and four EPs, with Monomania being the sixth staple in the collection — most all being critically acclaimed. Frontman Bradford Cox has released three albums as a semi-solo artist called Atlas Sound, as well as four volumes of music that are up for grabs and completely free via his blog, and a couple of other “virtual 7-inch,” downloads. While bandmate Lockett Pundt has released two albums as Lotus Plaza, it’s very clear what this album title is strictly referring to: Bradford Cox’ absolute need to create music.

Monomania is defined as a form of partial insanity with a single phenomena or preoccupation, or just heavy concentration on one subject. In this case, it’s either Bradford’s obsession with making music or some of them themes brought to the album itself. It’s also been stated by Cox himself in a Rolling Stone interview back in 2011 to promote Atlas Sound’s Parallax.

…And I guess my time as a musician has gone by so fast that I realized that I have no personal life. The other guys in Deerhunter, they all found things. And I just have monomania. I always will. I’m obsessive about one thing, that there’s one thing that’s going to make me happy and it’s making music, or there’s one thing that’s going to make me happy and it’s this person.

Monomania‘s Deerhunter’s sixth full-length effort to date, and more the reason to naming the appropriate album title.

The album opens up with “Neon Junkyard,” a track where Cox delivers Bowie-esque vocals with a freak-folk vibe. The song’s lyrics deal with neon and I’m guessing an obsession with neon lights all around Cox (neon’s even on the album cover). The vocals are very rough and blaring, with a heavy emphasis on distortion and fuzz all around the background atmosphere. Things get even louder on the next track, “Leather Jacket II,” which is a blend of sounds featuring a ton of scribbling guitar fuzz, clambering cymbals, and screaming vocals which literally sound as if they were coming through a megaphone that was connected to alarm clock radio speakers.

Instantly, the clammering is toned down with the next lineup of tracks “Pensicola,” and “The Missing,” and “Dream Captain.” Deerhunter is definitely pulling from early inspirations such as T. Rex, David Bowie, and Sonic Youth, giving listeners a boom of noise while coinciding confident growling vocals and smooth garage-rock electric guitar. These songs bleed 70’s influence with hints of modern ties — it’s wonderful and a great blend. On “Dream Captain,” Cox sings the lyrics, “I’m a poor boy from a poor family,” helping reinforce that early rock n’ roll sound by use of Queen lyrics. “Pensicola,” and “The Missing,” are two tracks that sonically sound like every band that has influenced American rock n’ roll. It’s a bit unexpected from Deerhunter, but it’s welcomed with open arms as the band seems comfortable with their direction.

“T.H.M.,” features Cox panting in a manner a dog would, breathing over a microphone manically with every measure. “Sleepwalking,” take the old vibes they pull influence from and splice a little bit of The Strokes and modern-indie rock sounds into the mix. The title track, “Monomania,” comes back to the initial sound of the record, bringing back the moderately sexy blaring guitars and fuzz, as well as the words “mono monomania,” being repeated at around two minutes straight with non-stop guitar noise and banging cymbals in the background. It’s loud and I dig that.

The thing is, Monomania, seems to be one-fourth loud and blaring noise and three-quarters toned-down noise-rock, similar to Yuck or Kurt Vile. The entire thing is almost an ode to rock n’ roll music. That’s not a bad thing, but for Deerhunter, it’s a bit of a change in direction most wouldn’t expect. Cox is heavily influenced by Bowie and the glam-rock scene and older psychedelic bands, so this album definitely bleeds with the same noise and fuzz the 70’s and 80’s helped produce. It’s a great mixup, almost perfectly executed with their own style.

4/5

Stream the album here in its entirety, via NPR.