(Kranky; 2007)

By Dom Sinacola | 11 January 2007

Cryptograms has got something for everyone, and that, tried and truly, is a testament to its digestibility. In fact, it's full of its influences, chock stuffed with pieces. Much has already been said about the harrowing situation surrounding the recording of the album, how emotional strife and death and financial plagues Arcade Fired the band into a slump that almost killed the album. And then how Deerhunter rose from the tape machine mess in late 2005 with just two full days of recording that completely composed the album and split it simply, similarly, in two. The first half, up until "Red Ink" where the tape used the first day of recording literally spins off the reel, used up, is--straight from Kranky's mouth--a concerted attempt to wed garage rock with ambient or drone music. The second half, brisker, is a spree of honed "psyche-pop." On top of that, we're told that the album carries thin themes about experiencing the same "experience," taken from two antithetical perspectives. And that's how it's put out, like a child of recent when-and-whatever, cut into two, encoded with themes of duality and angst and ideas about marriage, then dootied out quickly through thick, dirty production so that the world might get a glimpse of the bowel shredding going on in there. So they can see the guts get pulverized.

Besides two unabashedly lovely songs ("Providence" and "Heatherwood," bent on decoration and simple structure), the rest of Cryptograms just sounds, as a whole, too coherently cold. The guitars that punish every ounce of space, the static and bells that seem to exist only in order to fuck with each other, lead singer Bradford Cox's pubescent robot voice: these are great things My Bloody Valentine did, wonderful emulsions the back catalog of Kranky's already concocted, then valorized. And Kranky's a fantastic breeding ground, a label that's continued to horn in on one phenomenally refreshing career after another. Makes sense that Deerhunter takes some of the best parts of each of these bands and genres and movements, grinding them together, sure, but Cryptograms ends up more of a shell than an organism. It slaps against monotony as a matter of shoegaze arts and uses beds of noise to replace rigor mortis with melodrama.

Not to knock it too hard, because the album's definitely a rush. "Cryptograms" rides echoing bass and clipped snares, breaking deep into screaming electronics as every instrument at hand races for an exit. "Lake Somerset" doesn't alter much of the bass or vocal approach, but teases harder and then climaxes harder between what sounds inimitably like bong breath. That's a sound that ushers in the album's second half, "Spring Hill Convert"'s intro to rhythm and harmony, still beached by a squall of reverb. Then "Strange Lights" and "Heatherwood" lay off, bloating to the gills with chewy pedal work instead of feedback. This is when Bradford can safely drape his lyrics with melody, when "Hazel Street" sinks to Of Montreal in the sewers, allowing Cox's voice and Moses Archuleta's synth to bob on top of adolescent angst like they deserved to all along.

At this point, things get sticky. The second half, I think, is about embracing the selfish, lame achings of youth, and the first half is about connoting the same things the same way I just did. I don't mean to cheapen the types of music Deerhunter emulates by just parsing out their messages into straightforward dichotomy, but c'mon, the stuff's lined up that way. It's in halves, wandering then precise, cathartic then dissatisfied, and on and on for five more songs, I think. Which isn't bad or anything, but behind it all is a sort of distance; I should say, behind the banging guitars and walls of noise, the band can barely get heard. Half of me thinks the group was aiming for a bit of something hypnotized and dreamy, that they worship Spacemen 3 and the patience that entails. But then the other half thinks Cryptograms is something gritty and furious, maybe something religious, but still something of a turtlehead waiting to poke through.