Friday, January 11, 2008

The 20 Best Albums of 2007 - Deerhunter: "Cryptograms" & "Fluorescent Grey" EP

1.  I know it may not seem fair to give the top spot on the list to two records from the same band. Aside from the fact that Fluorescent Grey is included in the vinyl release for Cryptograms (a big hint that both are meant to be enjoyed in tandem), it's difficult for me to determine which of the two is better. Rather than choose one, I decided it would be best to reward Deerhunter for making two excellent works that are a cut above most everything else that was released this year.

Cryptograms, perhaps more than any other album I heard all year, makes a strong case for the vitality of the album format. In an age where digital distribution has impacted the way albums take form, it's becoming more and more rare to hear something that sounds like it should only be played in sequence and in its entirety. The reliance on ambient soundscapes and white noise to form bridges between songs (that is, those tracks that  include vocals and at least a vague allusion to lyrics) is reminiscent of 70's Krautrock, especially of the Neu! and Can variety (hold your horses, I am not putting them in THAT category just yet).

What's more, the order of the songs makes a statement about the album format, specifically the LP. Because most of the "accessible" tracks reside on the record's second half, it lends itself to maximum enjoyment if you listen to it on a turntable. The dichotomy between side one and side two cannot be be understated with experimental moments of hazy textures on the former and flirtations with, dare I say, pop ("Hazel St.", "Strange Lights") on the latter. It's almost like they were going for the inverse of Low here. Whatever the motivation, the result is a satisfying journey from free-form noise to noise pop.

The journey continues and ultimately climaxes on Fluorescent Grey, where we hear Deerhunter more focused than ever before. The title opening track begins with an ominous piano and a beat that signals to the listener that a big payoff is on the horizon. The buildup continues to grow as Bradford Cox murmurs "patiently patiently" until a wave of drowned guitars and delay-cloaked vocals bring the song to a triumphant close. On "Like New" we hear the band at their absolute best (at least, to date), as they basically take everything good about Cryptograms and condense it into a tiny, easy-to-swallow 2:13 pill. While on "Wash Off" they end the party with sonic outburst that recalls some of the aggression of their ear-splitting debut album.

In the end it is nearly impossible for me to think of Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey as anything other than one cohesive piece of art divided into three acts. In order to fully enjoy and understand the climax/resolution you must first witness the setup and confrontation. In the case of these two records, I wouldn't have it any other way. 

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