It’s easy to cast Deerhunter as eccentric, thanks to frontman Bradford Cox’s appearance and a history of unique live shows. And to some extent, that’s the reputation the band has earned: the odd, unpredictable fringe element of contemporary indie rock.
But that view is too simplified. Sure, Deerhunter has its moments of oddness, but quick listens to 2008’s “Microcastle” and 2010’s “Halcyon Digest” reveal musicians who are unafraid of exploring instruments and their sounds, but weary of tweaking conventional song structures.
Straightforward percussion and bass, easily accessible guitar lines and Cox’s personality-filled voice are essential to Deerhunter’s hit-making puzzle. That approach largely goes unchanged with “Monomania” — for better or worse.
The first thing to hit the listener is “Monomania’s” production, which pushes Deerhunter’s already obfuscated sounds with more reverb, echo, delay and hiss. It’s jarring when album opener “Neon Junkyard” first kicks off, but Deerhunter usually knows where to push the effects and where to back off, using them more for accent than cover-up.
That’s why the album’s second track, “Leather Jacket II,” must be an intentional effort to aggravate listeners, because it’s little more than a noise rock punch to the teeth.
Thankfully “Monomania” quickly settles into a more listenable pattern — thick production and all — as it glides through 10 tracks of unsurprising Deerhunter sounds.
Highlights include “Back to the Middle,” which, despite it’s two-and-a-half minute length, leaves possibly the biggest impact of any tune on the record, and “Pensacola,” which finds the group far from their comfort zone crafting a rollicking southern bar rock tune.
The album doesn’t disappoint in terms of song quality, but that’s expected out of any Deerhunter album at this point.
The group has changed up about as much as it can for “Monomania” without leaving their known sound behind, and the result is a record that, beyond being a good listen, gives fans something to talk about.
“Monomania” came close, but it doesn’t take Deerhunter to the rarified air of reinvented bands. And maybe that’s not what they were looking to do, but, looking toward the next record, it’s hard to think of another direction they could possibly go.
Nic Turiciano is a writer and photographer in Fort Collins who is also an intern at the Denver Post. You can follow him on Twitter at @nic_turishawno or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.