If as an eager-eyed prefrosh you went to a party at Wesleyan this year, then you’re familiar with our 2007 Spring Fling headliner, TV on the Radio. At the very least, you danced in some state of inebriation to their ubiquitous, “Wolf Like Me.” Not so ubiquitous, however, are fellow Spring Fling performers Deerhunter. The Atlanta-based quintet is already being hailed by many as the best thing to happen to music this year, and it’s no wonder—if you made a film about the weirdest and most beautiful dream you’ve ever had, Deerhunter’s sophomore effort, Cryptograms, would be the soundtrack.
A masterpiece of contradictions, the album is laced with delicate melodies, wave-like orchestration and lyrics ranging from erotic to anesthetized. Compiled chronologically from two separate recording sessions, Cryptograms plays like an indie-kid’s sweetheart, blending Explosions in the Sky’s call-to-dreams anthemics, Joy Division’s staccato dissonance, and just a hint of Luna’s melodic ache.
Likenesses aside, however, Deerhunter’s versatility nourishes an identity that sets them apart from their peers and awakens butterflies in the gut of any listener. Though at times jarring, Deerhunter is not a taste to be acquired but an experience at once comforting and cathartic. A tour of Cryptogram’s 12 tracks is not unlike a walk through the rain with a warm drink.
Opener “Intro” is a watery amalgam of electronic sampling and feedback that builds into the next three tracks. Like realizing that you’re dreaming, the initial choppiness gradually turns intelligible. Guitarists Lockett Pundt and Colin Mee use their effects pedals like they’re going out of style, constructing a sonic landscape at once ambient and paranoid. This saturation culminates in the chaos of the title track, which ends, ironically enough, with the mantra, “There was no sound.” “Lake Somerset” has the honey-whisper of frontman Bradford Cox ground through a bullhorn into a sadistic snarl, barking disjointed violent allusions over a bass line as tumultuous as a dictatorship on the verge of collapse.
But in the wake of the rubble comes Cryptogram’s visceral, sleepy second half. Largely instrumental, chords drift amid the distortion and Cox’s quiet pleads. “Strange Light” bathes us with sun-drenched imagery, while “Hazel St.” weaves layers of sound that evoke nostalgia of things yet to come. This sonic richness ebbs and flows throughout the album’s duration, laced with unusual touches like the sound of a running brook (“Octet-Stream”). In Cryptograms’ closer, the vaguely dancey “Heatherwood,” the drums and bass of Moses Archuleta and Josh Fauver calm to a marching lullaby. Cox coos, “One life is over/A new one begins/And was not seen again”—the anthem to the last dance with a love past.
Born from its own turmoil, the delicate beauty of Deerhunter’s Cryptograms reminds us that there are at least some dreams we don’t have to wake up from.