Album Reviews

Atlas Sound – Parallax

(4AD) UK release date: 7 November 2011

There’s no one quite as hard-working in the world of indie as Bradford Cox. Over the past few years he’s been juggling main labour of love Deerhunter, releasing several demos through four volumes of the Bedroom Databank and a couple of solo records under the Atlas Sound moniker. It’s the last of these projects that he’s recently devoted time to and Parallax, his third effort on his own, shows a songwriter entering a particularly creative phase of his career.

The key to the success of this album is a combination of the songcraft and the several production tricks and ideas that is brought to the table. Take a song like Amplifiers, which is fairly straightforward in its structure, but through a few touches here and there he manages to create a slightly surreal and sinister atmosphere with synthesisers hovering around the track like ghosts. Another example of this is the title track (an out-of-control radio frequency noise floats in the background). There are numerous sounds to take in, but they all gel together brilliantly.

Some songs are a bit more stripped down; Angel Is Broken doffs its hat to country with its opening guitar riff and has a superb chorus to boot, the vocals in rather dreamy opener The Shakes may not be particularly clear but they are full of character and Mona Lisa sees Cox singing about fantasies and galaxies in the album’s catchiest three minutes. Some, on the other hand, are just plain inventive; Te Amo has an intriguing and hypnotising melody that races away against the most minimalist of beats.

In its quieter moments the results can be even more captivating. The spacious and ambient Doldrums that talks of dark stories that no one likes to tell as his vocals matches the melody of an increasingly downtempo piano. Terra Incognita is a beautiful song that has one of the best, and maybe truthful in his case, lines on the album: “These ancient technologies strengthen my bones”. Flagstaff follows suit by starting out clear and intimate before turning into something hazier altogether.

There are a few nagging issues that prevent Parallax from being a late contender for album of 2011. Tracks like Angel Is Broken and Terra Incognita, no matter how good, do have a tendency to drag on a bit – they’d be absolutely perfect if they were edited slightly – and, after the relaxed tone of the tracks towards the end, it’s not the best time to introduce a sharp and abrupt piece of Merseybeat-esque throwback called Lightworks. There’s also Praying Man, an acoustic-led piece of filler that doesn’t really add anything of interest.

In the press notes and pre-release buzz Parallax has been labelled as a ‘science fiction’ record. Be that as it may, it’s also something better: a completely individual piece of work that can’t be pigeon-holed. This is easily the most satisfying and rewarding set of songs that Cox has written in any of his projects and it’ll be a tough ask to top it.

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