Review: Deerhunter takes a noisy turn

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Psychedelic band Deerhunter have changed things up with their latest release.

Between lead singer Bradford Cox’s cryptic lyrics, the band’s shoegaze and dream-pop influences and wild on-stage antics, Deerhunter have become one of the more popular indie rock groups of today, and have often seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough.

“Monomania,” their sixth full-length album and first since 2010’s masterstroke “Halcyon Digest,” takes them in a bizarrely non-commercial direction, often favoring noise and feedback over the psychedelic pop melodies they had previously explored.

Compared to the band’s earlier works, this album has a more abrasive, noise-rock feel, specifically on the first half.

Songs like “Leather Jacket II” and “Dream Captain” are effectively garage rock, favoring loud, distorted vocals that often come close to drowning out the other instruments.

Musically, that seems to be the point of the album – being loud, aggressive and lively. This kind of raw energy certainly gives the album a live element. Added keyboards and overdubs are virtually non-existent.

“Monomania,” at its simplest, is reminiscent of teenage garage bands. The equipment sounds old, but attitude drives the sound.

The second half of the album starts to venture into more familiar territory. “Sleepwalking” and “Back to the Middle” could easily be outtakes from previous albums. These songs have a more psychedelic, less garage feel.

One of this album’s shortcomings is the less-than-obvious role of guitarist Lockett Pundt. Bradford Cox seemingly dominates the album, with Pundt only writing and singing one song, “The Missing,” which appears early on the album. “The Missing” would have been right at home on any previous Deerhunter release.

Lyrically, Cox is centered on change, whether it’s is the presence of it or lack thereof. He sounds like a songwriter in his late 20s, subtly accepting his place in the universe while still being forced to watch the world around him transform.

His stream-of-consciousness approach to writing lyrics always leaves something to decipher, and what he’s saying usually works. But, the lyrics, “I’m a poor boy from a poor family” from “Dream Captain” bring Queen to mind more quickly than one would like.

For the most part, “Monomania” works. It’s not the band’s best, but it brings them in a new direction. An album like this is definitely more preferable than a full album of wannabe “Microcastle”-era tracks.

For existing Deerhunter fans, there’s something here to be enjoyed. The change is welcome. For new listeners, “Monomania” probably isn’t the best place to start. This album is one to be played loudly.

“Monomania” will be available May 7 on iTunes and Spotify. It is now streaming on NPR Music.

Rating: Three out of four stars.

Story: JAY SALTON, Intern A&E Reporter