Monomania - 4AD
FILTER Grade: 84%
By Kyle MacKinnel on May 20, 2013
“Nothing ever ends up quite like what you planned,” rasps firebrand frontman Bradford Cox in the closing verse of “Pensacola.” This lyric could serve as an apt credo for Deerhunter’s modus operandi: a gradual process of distorting and mounting upon tightly coiled grooves until the listener’s endgame, by track’s conclusion, has been met with a seamless sort of subversion. On the other side of the coin, the line has thematic resonance also, as the idée fixe of this particular case of monomania—as near or far as one can see—seems to be Cox’s curious preoccupation with his own doom. “And in my dying days/I could never be sure.../They’ll never take me away,” he finally issues on “Monomania” before musing into a coda that repetitively churns out the track’s title over wicked sheets of muffed guitar and the sound of a sputtering motorcycle.
Deerhunter’s terrific last effort, 2010’s Halcyon Digest, sported an unprecedented sonic glister and suggested, perhaps, that guitarist Lockett Pundt’s emerging and oft-overlooked songwriting prowess was set to render the band a double dragon. However, Monomania balks both of these trends with a dense fog of pervading fuzz and Cox’s seizure of the microphone cables at nearly every turn. (Pundt’s lone composition, “The Missing,” stands up as a beacon of clarity on the record and represents one of its most instantly engaging cuts.) But that is certainly not to say anyone should sleep on Bradford’s presence as skewed troubadour. If a recent, delightfully theatrical performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is any indication, the wigged, leopard-printed Cox resuming his post at center-stage (with mysteriously mangled digits, to boot) adds a certain immediacy to Deerhunter’s celebrated acumen as a live band. What’s more is that in Pundt’s capacity as lead guitarist, his meandering strokes do much to ensure that his voice is hardly lost on Monomania.
Despite a pronounced lean towards the gritty in all its finer trappings, Deerhunter’s fifth longplayer is riddled with some of Cox’s most structurally sound songwriting. Adding to the aforementioned tracks, “Dream Captain” is an aggro rock-and-roll throwback; “Blue Agent” flickers with the cooler movements of Television; and the penultimate “Nitebike” betrays the speed of its title’s imagery to reveal an acoustic confessional via the means that only Cox possesses. In its fuller context, Monomania requires more than a couple spins for its individual parts to rear their heads. In this case, it is truly the mark of a cohesive work. For a man harping on his own demise, it’s hard to remember a time when Bradford Cox was more present on a record, and that includes his comparatively reticent solo efforts as Atlas Sound. Still, never afraid to take shelter behind a veil of self-contradiction, Cox concedes the “Blue Agent” admission: “If you ever need to fight for life/I’ll make no sound.”