By Katie Steen, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 6, 2011
What does Atlas Sound have in common with “Star Trek?” Science fiction, apparently.
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This is the genre Bradford Cox — the man behind Atlas Sound and the singer of Deerhunter — has given to his newest album. Parallax, his third LP, delivers many of the same bizarre instrumentals and sound effects evocative of noises one would imagine might be created somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn.
That said, there’s a more structured, concrete feel to Parallax than in his past albums. The melodies are well defined and the lyrics are relatable. And Cox’s singing involves more comprehensible words and less of the pleasant mumble prevalent in his first album, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel.
In his sophomore effort, Logos, Cox lyrically reasoned, “Everything makes sense when you look at it from another way.” Consider, then, that the term “parallax” refers to the difference in visual perception depending on one’s viewpoint. Continuing the idea introduced in Logos into Parallax seems to be a comment on the subjective nature of practically anything in life: Take what you think you know, question it and you’ll have Parallax.
Opening track “The Shakes” sounds simple and appealing, an energetic rhythm of drums and guitars churning throughout the song. The lyrics reminisce on friendships and fame, but the track’s cheery tone turns out to be a musical illustration of parallax. The friends are material objects, and the song essentially delivers an age-old lecture: Money can’t buy you happiness. “The Shakes” ends with a smooth and dreamy blend of saxophone, drums, guitars and Cox’s falsetto croon, mirroring the void of material pleasures into which the wealthy may fall, giving it a particularly “science fiction” sound.
Contrast this with “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs,” a bubbly, fantastical little ditty ruminating on love. Cox makes even nausea sound beautiful as he wonders if the risks and physical discomforts of a relationship are worth it. He relates love to ringing bells and shiny rings, but it’s clear the former is elevated to a level far above these tangible comparisons.
Not all tracks on Parallax have such an abstract sound. Traditional acoustic instruments like guitar and piano guide “Terra Incognita” and “Mona Lisa” (which happens to feature the magic fingers of MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden).
In the closing track, “Lightworks,” Bradford pulls out his trusty harmonica, telling the New York Times he included it at the last minute because the instrument happened to be in his pocket. The song describes a mysterious fate-like light that guides human actions, much like Cox’s spur-of-the-moment decision to use his coincidentally in-tune harmonica.
“Lightworks” has a slowed-down rockabilly feel to it, which offers some sort of an explanation for the slicked-back hairdo and vintage microphone Cox has on the cover of Parallax. The picture is fitting for the album — an image reminiscent of the simpler times of the ’50s, but cast in an ambiguous light that shows how not everything is as it appears. Such is the complex mind of Bradford Cox, reminding all — whether when judging his music or the world around — to keep an open mind.