Warning: Monomania by Deerhunter is not the album to listen to in the wake of a ratty hangover. It’s abrasive, snot-nosed, manic-depressive rock and as noisy as a traffic jam. There are few moments of calm. Your neighbors will not appreciate you blasting it, but their well- being is not of your concern and neither is it of Bradford Cox, the main force and singer behind Deerhunter.
Monomania, released Tuesday May 7, is the group’s sixth studio album and announces the addition of new bassist Josh McKay. It also comes after their longest music drought with their last output being 2010’s Halycon Digest. They’ve been fairly consistent with releases since their 2005 debut, but Cox has upped the ante with his side project, Atlas Sound staying just as active.
On previous Deerhunter albums there would be long dramatic drop-offs of noise washing over, scant ambient swirls, cymbals tinkering against each other, shots of whatever leftover noise just rattling on into infinity. This collection of songs is more straight-forward, focused, but still with a sloppy punk rock execution.
The album begins with a line of drool slipping into the slow creep California jam, “Neon Junkyard.” Acoustic guitars lay on top each other while a moody synth gurgles in the distance. “Leather Jacket II” throws the listener into a pit of feedback and jumbled guitar twine. The same squawking lick writhes throughout until the whole thing crumbles at your feet. Thankfully, “The Missing,” pulls itself from the noise and reveals a hazy charm. It’s like a song from a 90’s backyard smoke-out beaming back to us on broken down transmitters.
Cox slobbers all over the microphone. Each lyric is delivered with a repressed primal scream. His vocals are either enmeshed in distortion or floating, upside-down, in reverb. Most of the time it’s difficult to understand what he’s saying, but it’s clear that something in life is bugging him. He’s unsettled, impatient and before he lets it bring him down he’s going to burn out everything nearby.
Lyrics are like chicken-scratch scraps from his daily journal. On the blustering “Pensacola” Cox yelps, “The woman that I loved, took another man. Nothing ever ends up quite like what you planned.” Later he plans a trip to that city, seeking adventure as a means of escape. He pleads on the following track, “Dream Captain take me on your ship, Dream Captain it’s my only wish.” His head is spinning and this guy wants out.
He seems to be trapped by every emotional state known to modern man. He calls himself a “crippled coward.” His hair is falling out. He almost arrives at personal connection multiple times, but slips into a pit of despair. “If you need a friend,” he remarks on “Blue Agent,” “then look someplace else.” Oh really? Then I guess someone else will have to use these two free Braves tickets I scored.
That song is the first to finally offers some space in the mix, with tiny high-pitched plucks on the guitar. “Monomania,” which comes toward the end, assures the album doesn’t completely go soft. It sounds like a motorcycle crashing into a van, spliced and looped, until the motorcycle drives off. Fittingly, the next song, “Nitebike,” offers a moment of contemplation on a cool night. Cox coos hypnotically over a limp acoustic ballad. “I was on the cusp of a breakthrough,” he spits before erupting in howls of moonlight.
Cox and his quintet are picking up the pieces dropped by Sonic Youth and other noise-rock conglomerates. In their headspace a song doesn’t ever have to be complete for it to be finished. Music need not be perfect or even comfortable. As long as you attack the scraps lying around with grit and desire, the audience will appear. Monomania is Deerhunter’s best album. It works, not for it’s songwriting and musicianship, but for it’s forced penetration and total onslaught to fill the speakers. Before you press play, make sure your door is locked.