I made a firm decision a long time ago (around the time Deerhunter’s Microcastle came out) that Bradford Cox was a filthy, stinking genius. They do still exist in music, and they aren’t all musicians who have been working since the 70s. The current generation of musicians has them: Richard D. James, Thom Yorke, Win Butler, Isaac Brock, Kanye West, Tim Hecker. I’d personally count Peter Silberman in that list, but that’s just me. The list doesn’t truly matter, to be honest. When I first dug into the meat of Microcastle, I became consumed with the weight of his simple brilliance. I had put some thought into the bands of that decade that were going to be remembered in the next generation, but it was then that I decided that, if Bradford Cox wasn’t remembered, it would be an insult to the medium.
Atlas Sound has always been a side-project that wasn’t too far off base from the original band. Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel and Logos were incredibly reserved records, ones that showcased the brilliant possibilities of being a true “bedroom producer”: it felt like it was truly recorded in a bedroom, and though that aesthetic added to the feel of the records, it wasn’t what they were about. All of the Deerhunter records were on a different wavelength: they did feel agoraphobic, but they felt open at the exact same time. The first to Atlas Sound albums were pure claustrophobia. And that was really beautiful.
Parallax is album three for Cox under the Atlas Sound name, and on first listen, it feels oddly like a solo Deerhunter record. The trademark Atlas-Sound-stream-of-consciousness is there, but there’s something else paired with it: it feels more cohesive. Believe me, this isn’t a bad thing: it stacks up wonderfully against its siblings. Opener “The Shakes” tells a story of an aging star who’s “Found my money and fame / But I found it really late.” It’s a quiet anthem of lonely excess, and it almost comes off as an extremely delicate counterpoint to the point made in MGMT’s “Time To Pretend.”
Even with all of the themes of claustrophobia that Cox sews into his lyrics, it’s hard to take a great deal of warmth from them, especially here on Parallax. It’s one of the best albums of the year to simply swim in, and doing so makes it rewarding to try and discern what he’s singing in any given stanza. It’s a little like Panda Bear’s Tomboy from earlier this year: there are lyrics, but it’s almost beside the point at times. On “Te Amo,” for instance, you can pick out fragments: “When you’re down, you’re always down,” “I’ll pretend you were the only one.” It makes for a dreamlike atmosphere, and rewards repeat listens.
It’s only once you dig in that you discover the delicate film of pain hidden in things. “Is your love worth the nausea it could bring? Is your love worth those you left hurting?” Cox sings on “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs.” There’s a strange malaise in these songs, and queries like those just written are sung like they’re No Big Deal. When he sings “Kick me while I’m down – why don’t you?” on “Praying Man,” he sings it like it’s an actual suggestion, and not a sarcastic one. It’s almost beautiful to hear someone sing from a place of hurt regularly, and yet seem unaffected by it. It makes the atmosphere of the record almost unearthly, and yet even when you do let his words wash ashore, it never loses its gorgeous sheen.
Parallax is the most fully-formed Atlas Sound recording yet, and it’s a great sign. I have yet to be bored or displeased with these records, and though they lend themselves best to sleep and background music at dinner parties, they offer gold to those patient enough to wade in and pick things out, which I highly recommend doing. If nothing else, you just found your new favorite record to take baths to.