When Atlanta's Deerhunter released its second album, Cryptograms, in January, critics drooled over its intoxicating fusion of effects-drenched ambience and incendiary post-punk rave-ups. Rather than coast on the success of the album, the band recorded a new EP while Cryptograms was mixed. Fluorescent Grey—out later this month—strikes an even better balance between the band's two distinct impulses, with four tautly structured songs.
While the LP relegated singer Bradford Cox's echoing, distorted vocals to democra-tic standing among the band's sonic arsenal, his vocals cut through all the haze with clear-headed confidence on the new EP. What surfaces is a group of songs obsessed with entropy and adolescence, as he dreams of corpses or wiles away hours in his high school's parking lot. It might seem like a strange conflation of youth and death, but Cox has no trouble identifying the origin of his association between the two.
"I have a photograph of myself in a hospital bed when I was 16," he explained over email. "I had all this intense surgery and spent the entire summer pretty much drugged into unconsciousness. I was practically dead. I fixate on that year a lot. It's almost embarrassing how many songs I sing about being 16. I guess it might be catharsis."
In fact, the new EP sounds incredibly cathartic. Beginning with a simple piano riff, the title track adds layers of instrumentation and grows stiflingly tense until wild, Kevin Shields-worthy sprays of guitar split the song wide open. Certainly rock has always been the soundtrack to teenage rebellion, but Deerhunter's music scores all that inscrutable dread and aimless frustration without a hint of cloying nostalgia. If Cox recalls those years with fetishized fascination, it's clear he'd rather not revisit them.
"Feelings and instincts were a lot more intense. I could do more drugs without getting sick. I miss my friends from back then," he told me. "But a lot of them have changed or died or become unrecognizable."