Sunday, July 15, 2012

Atlas Sound: Logos (2009)



Yow, that Bradford Cox sure is a cheery bloke, isn't he? I was a Cox skeptic -- not being all that enamored of the hybrid of proggy guitar meandering and jangle-pop that started to overtake indie rock in the late 2000s -- until Halcyon Digest changed my mind completely. I wasn't the only one; that masterfully emotive and accessible record is the sort of thing that, in the somewhat myopic world of "alternative" blogs and news sites, can be termed a game changer. For my money, though, Cox's project of the following year, his third album as Atlas Sound (Parallax), was better still, one of the most genuinely gripping and immersive collections of songs I've heard in a long time, with the artistic energy and restlessness of the best pop songwriters. Parallax inevitably made me want all the more to check back on Cox's earlier work to see what I maybe had missed.

One thing very noticeable about that record, however, was the crippling melancholy running underneath it. Going back to the Atlas Sound music I'd skipped before, I'm mostly just so glad that he discovered songs after this. The addiction to pure "sound" on the celebrated but deadly-serious Logos provides an unfortunate analogy to this year's much-hyped Deerhunter side project, Lockett Pundt's Lotus Plaza. Unlike his My Bloody Valentine-after-too-many-beers Spooky Action at a Distance, I'm willing to call Logos a good record -- but one I don't see myself returning to often. As in the worst bedroom pop music, the apathy and bleakness are just too much to take. Cox's artistry and musicianship are undeniable, but it's hard to listen to Logos, despite the ample beauty contained therein, without feeling pretty troubled.

There are professional moments that snap into focus, of course; the bouncy Panda Bear cameo "Walkabout" continues the trend of Noah Lennox being far more compelling on other people's records than his own; the beautiful "Criminals" continues the good vibes and gives some hint to the showmanship Cox would begin to develop the following year; the eight-minute "Quick Canal," with vocals by Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab, threatens to descend into a dirge but never does; and best of all, "Sheila" is a wakeup call, a pop song with manic energy that sheds much of Cox's bummed-out listlessness. Unfortunately, these bright spots serve to emphasize the drabness of cuts like "The Light That Failed," which manages to throw all sorts of noise out without achieving any kind of resonance.

You end up picking up on pleasing sounds and lyrical flourishes, but the sameness is paralyzing; Logos sticks to its strongly held ambiance so well that you can't find a way in. By the end, all the despair is exhausting, not least because it's so amicably yet abstractly expressed. I finish Parallax wanting to give Cox a hug; I listen to this and want to stay away from him, because he's ruined my day with one of the bleakest albums I've ever heard. In all seriousness, this is a fine record despite some vapid mood-music rabbit holes it falls down, but proceed with care, and do not for a moment expect something as winning as "Terra Incognita" or "Basement Scene," which may not be any more colorful but are certainly less resistant to ingratiating themselves with you, becoming a part of your own world rather than a vessel for accidentally beautiful boredom.

Parallax (2011)

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