Put on a Happy Face

It turns out that Bradford Cox has a really wonderful smile – the infectious kind that makes others smile, too. His experimental art rock band Deerhunter announced an upcoming full-length release – and that is always a reason to put on a happy face.

Bradford Cox
Bradford Cox

More often associated with a punk sneer borne of contrarianism and mischievousness, Cox’s un-ironic smile is on full display in the new video. He is cute, comfortable, and flirty – front and center in a bohemian bumpkin’s uniform, (he’s pairing the shirtless look with oversized overalls and Pharrell’s Smokey the Bear/ranger hat,) and sharing the screen with a lively puppy dog and a Yorick-like skull.


Oh, there’s lots of smiling on the front end, paired with Cox’s bluesy, raspy rascal’s intro — “I was born already nailed up to the cross…” — the music is clap-along playful until about three quarters of the way through when it gets gloriously weird and sinister – carefree smiles are traded in for demonic glares.

With its dark lyrical undertones countering the upbeat music, Deerhunter is in the territory staked out by Kurt Weill and his many collaborators, including Bertolt Brecht and Maxwell Anderson. The phrase that describes this trick is andante espressivo, and it is often an appropriate descriptor of Cox’s style. Ira Gershwin , another Weill lyricist, described it as “sound[ing] sweet and simple at times, mysterious and menacing at others.” Check out this fine modern example of andante espressivo – a rocking, funky new tune, called Snakeskin.

Man, I love this band, as well as Cox’s other project Atlas Sound, so it was painful to report that the last Deerhunter record, 2013’s Monomania, was such a disappointment. In fact, I wrote that it was “… a bummer – Bradford Cox is a favorite artist in large part BECAUSE his approach is often willfully provocative and difficult. This record (Monomania) seemed to double back on that difficulty and provocation and fell flat.”

Fading Frontier
Fading Frontier

I probably missed the boat on Monomania – it was a critical success. But I felt let down by a favorite artist, and became eager for the band’s next effort. So, I was met with extra gleeful anticipation today when I learned they finally have a new one coming: Fading Frontier, due out 16 October 2015 on 4AD. According to Pitchfork, “…the album … features members of Broadcast and Stereolab …” Both those bands are ENORMOUS favorites of M is for Music, so it is extra extra exciting to learn of their involvement.

Deerhunter’s artist page on the 4AD label’s Web site notes, “Fading Frontier shows that a decade in, Deerhunter has lost none of its intensity. As the group matures … they have

grown into the most consistent purveyors of art-rock of their generation.” One hopes that assessment will be accurate, and that they can equal the beautiful intensity of earlier efforts like Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. (2008) and Halcyon Digest (2010).

4AD is responsible for putting out a great many of the songs posted on this page, and though the new Deerhunter track is not what one would think of as representative of 4AD’s ‘sound’, this label is no stranger to funk. Here, for example, is a great track from a great and funky record that is 20 years old:

Wolfgang PressChristianity by The Wolfgang Press from Funky Little Demons (1995 4AD).

Speaking of glorious collaborations with former Stereolab musicians – here is Cox with Laetitia Sadier in another musical incarnation – what a beauty:

Quick Canal by Atlas Sound from Logos (2009 4AD).

A taste of light and darkness:

Lotte Lenya
Lotte Lenya

Speak Low by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, performed by the absolutely brilliant, incomparable Lotte Lenye, from the Broadway musical, One Touch of Venus (1948).

There is a live performance film by Director John Albrecht called Deerhunter Sunday Redux (link below). It is a marvelous documentary testimonial to the creative, raw power Cox and Deerhunter can have. It was filmed at the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln during the band’s 2010 tour. I got to see that concert, and what a wonderful experience it was. It had the perfect effect of making the audience members feel that they were in the exact right place at the exact right time. The opener, Helicopter, is captivating – slow building and patient. We were hearing it, and several other songs that made up Halcyon Digest, months before its release.

A fantastic venue and such a memorable show:

Deerhunter Sunday Redux

Bradford Cox was seriously injured last December when he was hit by a car in Atlanta. With the new album and an extensive tour of Great Britain and Europe planned in support of Fading Frontier, it is good to know he has recovered.


17 august 2015

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