Atlas Sound returns with "Terra Incognita"


Bradford Cox has a way of sneaking up on his fans. News of impending Atlas Sound and Deerhunter releases tends to hit the wires just after we've ceased to wonder what's next, when it will come, or what form it'll take.

Then? Boom. New product.

So 4AD will issue Parallax, the third official/studio/press-campaigned LP from Cox's Atlas Sound solo project, on November 8. And "Terra Incognita," which Pitchfork has for download, is the first offered track or single.

(Is there a difference between the two anymore unless you're Beyonce or something? Serious question.)

Oh, the song? It's decent, you know? Gimme Noise likes it okay.

[jump] There's been something of an evolution in Cox's solo songwriting over the years. For one thing, it's crisper, cleaner, more precise and surefooted. For another, it's less and less tempting to unconsciously psychoanalyze the guy through his music because he's no longer the untidy hot mess he was when Deerhunter were in the midst of their late aughts ascent: less physical scuffling and audience intimidation, fewer rhetorical elbows thrown, less scatological blog bombs, way less drugs consumed. In this space last fall, when Cox unleashed a bunch of free AS demos - hilariously, I just typed "demons" there by accident, call it a Freudian slip - I expressed some tentative concerns about his mental condition, but in retrospect I suspect that what I interpreted as a slide into near-suicidal depression was little more than the adept playing of a part. Which is to say: they're just words, and they don't necessarily have much in the way of a direct connection to whatever reality Cox inhabits at this point.

Which isn't to say that there isn't an indirect connection. If "Incognita" can be taken as indicative of how Parallax might sound, it be the most upbeat or least morose Atlas Sound album, at something of a distance from the noisily immersive fatalism of Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel and Logos' creamier self-dissolving-into-ether fantasies. The new song unfolds in swaying-hammock fashion, with space-y slide guitars that mirror the dreaminess in Cox's seraphic vocals as he sings of caravans enlisted to stave off loneliness, coins new code words for smoking weed, gently invokes biblical desert imagery; it glides and drifts and sidles, a translucent sylph slow-dancing in a sheer house coat. Listening, I'm put in mind of a half-mad emperor far removed from the whims and needs of those he rules, wandering the desert in pursuit of a chimera-like fountain of youth or a thrill or a portal into the dead past. Eventually the fidelity and the narrator crap out simultaneously and delightfully, the lyrics trailing out into a string of bathic ba-ba-bas as the song itself unravels into portent and shadow.

I'm grateful for the threadbare uncertainly of the denouement, because at about halfway through "Incognita" there's a sort of maudlin theatricality that Cox has been prone to in recent years that threatens to sabotage his best work, this sort of icky self-consciousness and tonal poise that makes it difficult for me to listen to much of Halcyon Digest. Here that moment comes somewhere around the 2:45 mark and drags on for a good minute or so, once the melody has established itself and pulls back so that Cox's drawled, indulgent vocal is front and center; it's like he's preening or something, and feels distasteful in a way that's hard to explain, that wasn't evident on Logos. "Incognita" is sort of like the skeleton of a Deerhunter song, I suppose; maybe that's what bothers me about it. (Deerhunter, as a project, is becoming less and less enticing a proposition over time.) Hopefully it's an outlier on Parallax, a non-sequiter among Bedroom Databank-esque experiments and accidental masterpieces. But given that the Parallax track list includes "Mona Lisa" - one of my least favorite Bedroom Databank tunes - the odds aren't looking great.

But, you know, it sounds like he's a happier dude.

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