Fluorescent Grey EP

(Kranky; 2007)

By Sean Ford | 24 April 2007

With the release of this year's highly acclaimed Cryptograms, Deerhunter has brought on the same sort of crisis that every heralded, spankin' new indie band brings: arguments as to the worth and/or originality of what the band is doing, vicious backlash, overly romantic hyperbole... it's the same routine. Despite their brief history, the band has been a critic's dream: they cite Dennis Copper as a touchstone and have easy to spot sonic influences like Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, the Cure, My Bloody Valentine, and Jesus and Mary Chain swirling around the underbelly of their blissed-out sound. I mean, come on, the review practically writes itself. At first glance, Deerhunter is merely the latest product being tossed around indie radio stations and the internet in hopes of.who knows what, exactly? A record deal with one of the "indie" imprints of some major label? The chance to hang with Karen O?

And, par for the course, since we're all so media savvy and won't won't won't be fooled again, some folks have been hesitant to heap praise on the band, put off not only by the gargantuan names Deerhunter seek to associate themselves with but the ambition such name-dropping implies. Our own Dom Sinacola was slightly skeptical of this aspect of the band, finding their translations of others' ideas a bit hollow. While I beg to differ on that front, he made the excellent point that Cryptograms felt like two EPs strung together and released for the sake of having something to call an album. Enter the Fluorescent Grey EP, which doesn't seem like an epilogue to the album (as the band's label has suggested) so much as its third, and perhaps best, act. The EP acts as a refinement, a recombination of the pretty disparate aspects of acts 1 and 2 (Cryptograms), which split that album in two. But throw in Fluorescent Grey after the full-length and suddenly you've got sixteen songs that build off, compliment, and explain one another. Since hearing the EP, I've rarely listened to Cryptograms without tacking Fluorescent Grey at the end--they've become that inseparable. Hell, even Kranky agrees: they've released the EP on vinyl as part of the Cryptograms double LP set.

As for the actual music, Deerhunter continues to make leaps and bounds with every song, mixing those haughty influences listed above with a heady understanding of timing, atmosphere, and lyrical themes that channel the widely understood horrors of suburbia and adolescence. Fluorescent Grey seems to further their understanding of glossy drone work and speed-addled psych-rock; most interestingly, it blurs the line between the two, effortlessly shifting from one gear to the other within the same song. The best example is the excellent title track "Fluorescent Grey," where one of the band's more straightforward songs is obliterated by a drone/psych-rock breakdown, something only "Spring Hall Convert" really seemed to nail on the album proper.

Lyrically, the title track turns an ambiguous high school obsession into something far more morbid, with singer Bradford Cox asking, "Why do I dream so often of his body / When his body will decay / His flesh will be fluorescent grey." The places where Cox's confused, melancholic emotions whirl into sonic violence actually do seem to warrant the insistent Dennis Cooper mentions. The band is all awkward frustration coiling and uncoiling, obsessed with death and sex and where the two meet (from “Dr. Glass”: "In the world / So many useless bodies / Please consider / All the couples kissing / The children missing / The corpses rotting"). Both "Dr. Glass" and "Like New" focus on similar themes and loop through mid-tempo drone, building tension but never really exploding the way the title track does. These two slower tracks set up the frantic yelp of "Wash Off," where the band explodes all “Geektown USA,” recalling “Lake Somerset” or a more refined version of the reckless rock that defined their 2005 debut. The song once again obsesses over some vague high school trauma and is one of many Deerhunter songs to repeat the line "I was sixteen."

I suppose folks could be worried about the fact that I keep mentioning how Deerhunter obsess over high school traumas past. But, again, like Cooper or any great horror movie, Deerhunter have a way of making those high school traumas seem transcendent. The songs use high school as an entry point to explore loneliness, frustration, death, sex, all that fun stuff. That the band can explore these ideas both on a sonic and thematic level with growing confidence and dexterity on each new release is exciting. So, if you ignored the hype surrounding the release of Cryptograms, bully for you. You were smart, because now you get to listen to Cryptograms plus Fluorescent Grey -- for my money one of the best sets of songs released by any one band this year.