Tuesday, April 08, 2008

albums from 2008 that I love: Atlas Sound

OK, here's the first in a series of posts that I've been meaning to start. It shouldn't be that hard because there really aren't many albums coming out that I like enough to even bother with, but so far Atlas Sound has been my favorite album of the year. I never thought I would like Bradford's solo album as much as I love last year's incredible LP/EP output from his main band Deerhunter. I usually don't like sad-sack music that much and I'm really not into all the new indie that comes out every week and takes the campus by storm (although I'm thinking about going to see Blitzen Trapper and Fleet Foxes tonight and they're both pretty damn indie and the latter is pretty sad-sounding). But something about Bradford Cox has got me hooked on his music. He has a schtick, that's for sure: high-pitched, aching, overdubbed vocals over swelling, gauze-packed shoegaze drones. I always go for sound and style first and content/lyrics/whatever well after the fact, so maybe that's why I love the warm, fuzzy, electric pillow-ness of the music, because if I was paying attention to the lyrics more I would probably want to kill myself.

Bradford is known to have a thing for pills, and I know that the feeling of being on anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medication has influenced his sound a lot. Whether or not this has had some sort of druggie subconscious attraction for me is unimportant really, because even if I don't enjoy hearing a dude basically nail my own fucked up anxiety-ridden thoughts with every lyric, I KNOW I love to soak in the sonic equivalent of it. It's like if a violent, sociopathic necrophiliac sat around listening to Cannibal Corpse everyday for the lyrics, it probably wouldn't help him curb his problems. I prefer that I can't understand what he's saying sometimes because I'm afraid I'll go off the deep end if I paid attention too hard. It strikes a great balance between being about what I feel and sounding like how I feel, which is way more important to me. Sure, sometimes I feel like "Chokes me 'til I'm dead / There are places in my head / That I could never conquer"... But I'd rather just hear guitars and distant voices and gently tapped keyboards wash over me and try not to think about it while I focus on other stuff.

The sonic effect of the music is what grabs me. This album has served as a fuzzy counterpart to all the other stuff I've listened to this year, which has been all pounding bass, sharp drums and upfront vocals. Even though it's a complete emotional detachment, which is the theme of his writing and his sound, this is the only type of thing I can listen to for an emotional resonance without wanting to throw up. He never gets heavy-handed, always staying within the range of the repeating noises or echoing whispers that flow throughout the space of each song. Even when he says "I'm trying to make friends but I'm always on guard," you can barely tell it's there. If it weren't for the beautiful and comforting setting he creates for each song then the impact wouldn't be half as strong. Even the instrumentals, such as "Ready Set Glow," have as strong of a cathartic coziness as a song like "Quarantined," which, in addition to being one of my favorite songs on the album, has arguably the most apparent meaning of any of the songs here. I can't decide if I have found such a close resonance with his music because I often feel so much of what he sings about or if it is because the sounds he creates have filled some empty space in my listening with the warm, static-y goodness that it needed. Or could one not exist without the other?

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