Atlas Sound has an early Secret Santa dime bag for you
Thanksgiving is sort of a bummer holiday, isn't it? It isn't as solemn as Easter; it lacks the pageantry, color, and presents of Christmas.
Early settlers' exposition aside, the whole point of Thanksgiving seems to be (a) to stuff oneself with turkey, (b) to catch up with/allow oneself to be harassed by far-flung relatives, (c) to drop broad hints about what you want for Christmas, (d) to fight off crippling, tryptophan-induced grogginess, and (e) to valiantly grin and bear it through the shitty, inconsequential college football games your other relatives insist on watching.
I'd like to imagine that on some unconscious level, Bradford Cox gets this, and deigned to drop a trio of free home demos into our collective laps this week as opposed to a few days or a few weeks from now. Because Cox - as frontman of glo-fi collective Deerhunter and sole proprietor of the far superior Atlas Sound - grasps the value and utility of sulk-pop. If you've gotta call on just one brilliant, downcast savant to help you and your iPod survive Turkey Day 2010, why not make it him?
Enter Bedroom Databank Vol. 1 and Bedroom Databank Vol. 2, written and recorded by Cox earlier this year. This mass mp3 dump likely comes as no surprise to Cox obsessives, who have become accustomed to the acerbic, scarecrow-like auteur's prolix/generous tendencies; contextually, full-length/commercially-available Atlas Sound records like Logos and Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel register less like "official" albums and more like concessions to the idea that the larger marketplace must be acknowledged, that rent doesn't pay itself, that weed and home studio equipment aren't free.
Cox's leaked platters are bundles of sketchs and blueprints and experiments that don't necessarily have to trace a narrative path or build to any sort of peak; that these unofficial releases aren't usually* a basis for more hammered-out, defined Atlas Sound songs - cf. Sonic Youth's initial batch of SYR eps, which the band drew from for A Thousand Leaves - is a testament to Cox's apparently inexhaustible wellspring of ideas.
(A side note: Bedroom Databank Vol. 3 popped up on the Deerhunter blog this morning, but because Gimme Noise hasn't had a chance to parse it, analysis will have to wait until next week, when Thanksgiving 2010 is a long-distant memory.)
No disrespect to Another Bedroom, Rough Trade - bonus discs attached to Let... and Logos, respectively - and the smattering of singles and "digital 7-inches" and other lysergic ephemera** Cox has disseminated between formal release cycles and lengthy tours - but for Gimme Noise's money, Let...-presaging How I Escaped The Prison of Fractals is his blog-matter gold standard, a consistently smudge-y, synth-submerged meditation that's all methadone coma, no filler. On Fractals, Cox explored the types of textures and moods he would eventually explode and exploit on Let..., mashing aimlessness and dread and lust into drone-y, red-black noise-neon smears. Its nine numbing gazes massed into a single glorious zone out.
The first two Bedroom Databank recordings eschew that kind of tidy, immersive continuity/vibe for random, grab-bag eccentricity, as if in woodshedding and four-tracking by his lonesome this year Cox found himself drawing from more and varied influences than usual.
Let's start with Vol. 2; it's undoubtedly the one you'll want to spin in the car on the way to Aunt Edna's or Grandma's home tomorrow morning, a peppy, tumbleweed hot mess. Most of its cuts are acoustic, spritely, and startlingly short - see strummy, autumnal opener "Pilot Light" and the rollicking brief "Wintergreen Sketch" for prime examples. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Waltz-time gloaming gape "La Luna" - candied-chime, washed-out synths, tripled, sung-to-close-to-the-microphone Cox vocals - holds a lot of replay value for me. "Oceanview" is a Vicodin-fueled OCD twist of hot-then-cold-then-hot celestial-keyb dials; "Heatwave" is one of those larks where a Moltov cocktail is thrown into a nest of string-borne tones and the result is infinitely looped until you can't remember whether or not you're high; "Mouth of the Desert" brings the galaxy-drifting, metronomic anti-ruckus, a less psychedelic spin on the seethed-vocal seep of Logos' "Kid Klimax."
Vol. 2 winds down and out-to-lunch with "Here Come The Trains," a jiving, full-band-instrumentation choogle that jogs in place for twelve crispy, oscillated minutes; it's the kind of low-risk, fried-synapse jammy-jam Gimme Noise likes to imagine Stephen Malkmus cranking out alone at home in a smoke-filled basement, the off-the-cuff, no-through-road d-side that never makes it to a Jicks rehearsal, let alone a Jicks album. Now I'm scrambling to find room for this on my Pazz & Jop list.
When I say that Vol. 1 has a more gothic, Americana cast to it, it's not just because Cox covers a Dylan song here. The first pair of cuts drip with harmonicas, which resurface later; there are tambourines. There's a spare, lonesome atmosphere hovering over this thing, which is saying something, because if Atlas Sound as a project has a grand, overriding theme, it's loneliness and its attendant effects; one of the paradoxes surrounding Logos was that despite its reasonably collaborative nature - Laeticia Sadier, Panda Bear, and a few others guested and co-wrote - that album felt more towering distant, remote, and depressive than Let..., which was recorded mostly solo. The bulk of Vol. 1 - which is defiantly not group music, you should spend time with it on the drive home - is the loneliest, homeliest music Cox has ever made, and puts me in mind of Beck's early, Dylan-inspired folk and Smashing Pumpkins' left-field Tonight Tonight ep. You will believe that "Hotel Orlando" is a Dylan or Johnny Cash obscurity; it isn't, but maybe it's a homage. You will hope and pray, like me, that Vol. 1 is less of a signal of where Cox is going with the follow-up to Logos than an insignificant flexing of songwriting muscles. You will be relieved when the WTF sound experiments - the samples-in-a-popcorn-hopper face-melt of "Lanterns," the glow-stick vapor-trails of "Afternoon Drive," the Aphex Twin-on-meth fidgeting of "Postcard" - arrive to offset these ill-fitting, uncharacteristic expressions of melancholy.
* Admittedly, "Recent Bedroom Again" from Fractals resurfaces as "Recent Bedroom" on Let....
**If you download nothing else Atlas Sound-related today - if you've only the hard-drive capacity for a single track or whatever - please, I beseech you, snatch "Holiday." It is simply beyond divine.
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