Deerhunter debuts new, mature sound on ‘Halcyon Digest’

Chris Letso

Bradford Cox, lead singer of the Atlanta-based band Deerhunter, wrote on his public Facebook page that the title of his band’s new album, “Halcyon Digest,” is “a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones…The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember and how that’s kind of sad.” That seems like a bit of a mystifying idea, but after letting the songs from this highly anticipated LP fully sink in, his comments begin to make a whole lot of sense.

After bursting onto the scene with the noisy, ambient pop of “Cryptograms” in 2007, Deerhunter established itself as one of indie rock’s most compelling bands upon the release of “Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.” in 2008. 

Now, on “Halcyon,” Deerhunter has taken a more straightforward approach to songwriting, abandoning the suites present on the previous two albums in favor of 11 straight-up songs. 

The dreamy “Earthquake” kicks off the album with fractured drum beats and tremolo guitar, floating in and out of consciousness as Cox’s distant vocals morph into just another instrument. It is one of the band’s most beautiful songs to date, encapsulating as much melancholy and nostalgia as possible in five minutes. 

Lead single “Revival” is brilliant, jangly pop, and it shows the band utilizing a wide range of instrumentation, from banjo to fuzzy bass to a ton of different percussion sounds. 

Then, with the reserved, peaceful “Sailing,” the catchy, quick, harmonica-fueled burst of “Memory Boy” and, later, the unexpected saxophone in “Coronado,” the immense versatility of Deerhunter is on full display.

 “Halcyon Digest” is the sound of a band maturing without really wanting to grow up. 

On “Helicopter,” Cox sings his heart out for the first time ever, be it in his work with Deerhunter or his solo project Atlas Sound. 

His high comfort level is apparent, as his clear, unhindered vocals soar over the immensely pretty, treated guitar melodies. 

Yet, lyrically, it seems Cox still wishes he wouldn’t have to age. “I get bored as I get older,” he sings repeatedly on “He Would Have Laughed,” a tribute to the late Jay Reatard in which Cox airs his confusion and fear of death. 

It is often hard to decipher meaning in Cox’s lyrics, which are cryptic and supposedly improvised, but recollections of hazy memories and a longing for the past are present throughout.

Lockett Pundt, the band’s secondary singer and guitarist, contributes a couple of tracks to “Halcyon” as well. “Desire Lines” is essentially indie psych-rock that progresses into a jam, but the strength of the vocal melodies and the chorus make it a standout on the album. 

While Deerhunter’s latest opus feels like a trip through a field of old memories, real or invented, it sees the band pushing its sound in new directions, which is always a necessity for a band in order to stay innovative and relevant.

Somewhere along the way, though, they seem to have lost some of that unique charm that made their music so intriguing and likeable. 

This album lacks a fun jam like “Nothing Ever Happened” or something as immediately affecting as “Agoraphobia” off “Microcastle.” 

It is a great record and one of the year’s best, but fans may need some time to warm up to the new Deerhunter sound. Eventually, “Halcyon” may prove to have more lasting rewards than anything this band has so far produced.