Music Reviews

Atlas Sound Parallax

(4AD) Rating - 9/10

Atlas Sound, the solo moniker of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, has always served as a laboratory of sorts. Deerhunter has always been the show stealer, but Atlas Sound provides a place for Cox to explore a more insular, claustrophobic space, one full of insecurity and doubt. Atlas Sound is always full of contradictions: stream of consciousness lyrics that are somehow highly personal, music that sounds simultaneously thrown together and meticulous. They’re always a portrait of whatever Cox - a notorious fanboy who is always extolling the virtues of his peers - is listening to or dreaming of in the moment. Parallax explores as he always has, but does so in a far more focused manner than before.

Parallax continues Cox’s ridiculously prolific winning streak, with seven excellent official label releases since 2007, and many, many more if you count his frequent blog activity. He released the expansive and fascinating Bedroom Databanks I-IV in the fall of 2010, and his most recent outing follows the musical trajectory found on that collection. Cox continues to head down a road full of disjointed, atmospheric pop music, a direction that gets increasingly clear with each passing year. His music never sounds like an abrupt shift because he never stops making music, but he has evolved considerably throughout his career. He adds elements of freak-folk to his repertoire on Parallax, with Mona Lisa (which was featured originally on the Bedroom Databanks) being a shining example and an album highlight. It shuffles around a simple guitar and piano line, and is one of the bounciest, catchiest songs Cox has produced under any name. The lilting Terra Incognita further explores the quieter side of his style. It’s a softer, less attention-grabbing song than its also excellent predecessor Angel Is Broken, but it pairs well with it and is just as good. Its mesmerizing intertwining guitar and bass lines make it one of the albums best tracks.

Parallax finds Cox at his most confident, both musically and lyrically. He still liberally uses effects on his vocals, but buries himself less than he used to. He sings at full volume on Te Amo, without wrapping himself in layers of haze. On opener The Shakes, he ponders his successes and failures. He’s still a fairly impressionistic songwriter, but personal narratives are beginning to creep into his music. Cox doesn’t sound like he’s aimlessly writing. Past Atlas Sound releases, while great in their own imperfect way, don’t show the same focus that Parallax does. It doesn’t sound like a collection of songs worked on off and on for a long period of time. It sounds like it was written as a whole, and meant to be consumed as one.

Tightly held together albums are usually an accolade reserved for Deerhunter over Atlas Sound, but Parallax is different. Cox’s solo work has always been more about hearing him explore himself than cohesion. He still explores, but the record holds together far better than past efforts have. Deerhunter’s last album, Halcyon Digest, found them sounding increasingly like themselves, and Parallax does the same for Atlas Sound. Cox sounds comfortable and confident, and has made the best solo album of his prolific career.