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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Deerhunter: Two great albums for the price of one

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In a brave new media world where most underground rock bands would kill to garner the sort of Internet buzz that greeted "Microcastle," the third album by the Atlanta, Ga. avant-pop quintet Deerhunter, bandleader Bradford Cox had a very different reaction when the music leaked last May, several months ahead of its official release.

"There was a really positive vibe coming out of the sessions: 'We were all high-fiving each other and going, "Man, that sure was easy," and I don't think we've ever been so focused, and then suddenly I got this email that this record leaked two days after it was mastered,'" Cox recalls in a typically hyper-energetic torrent of words. "It's a really annoying situation you're put into, because there isn't much you can do. I'm not the kind of person.... I'm not a victim, and I never have been. I'm not a conventional person, but I've never let that stop me. To have some person say, 'Hey, your record is leaked and you can't do anything about it,' to me, that's like, 'Oh really? Let's see!'

"My response has been misunderstood: People are quick to rush and judge. Everyone kind of assumed that I was being really fascist and anti-music fan. I understand that people honestly feel that they should be entitled to download whatever they want and that the music is free. I understand that's the climate now, but what irritates me is the fact that the record was not ready. At that point, I was already fielding questions from people about the specific elements of the record that they shouldn't even know about, and that irritates me! I'm talking about it in May when it was recorded in April, and it's not supposed to be out until October. I was forced to talk about it so early that by mid-summer, I was like, 'OK, time for the next record!'"

Ultimately, Cox responded to the leak by taking the band--which is completed by drummer Moses Archuleta, bassist Josh Fauver and guitarists Lockett Pundt and Whitney Petty--back into the studio to craft a second disc, "Weird Era Cont.," which is now included along with the original "Microcastle" in the version released in the U.S. by Chicago-based Kranky Records and in the U.K. by the prestigious indie 4AD.

The new music has a quick-and-dirty, live-in-the-rehearsal space sound, while "Microcastle" evokes a twisted lower-budget version of the lush psychedelic pop of "The Soft Bulletin" by the Flaming Lips or "Here Come the Warm Jets" by Cox's hero, Brian Eno. "I think 'Weird Era' emphasizes a lot more of the initial unpolished ideas that go into a record like 'Microcastle,'" is how the singer puts it. But with the exception of a few tracks that play like unfinished sketches, the two discs function well together, and most of the 25 songs on the finished CD boast an intimate vibe and wonderfully skewed pop sensibility.

When Cox says that he is not a victim, he's reacting to a recurring theme in much of the coverage of the group: Absurdly thin and towering over his bandmates at six foot four, the singer and primary songwriter suffers from Marfan's Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that causes elongated limbs and potential heart defects. But Cox has never let it slow him down or define him. Though his unlikely appearance, ambiguous sexual persona and sometimes aggressive stage antics alienated as many concertgoers as they converted during a recent high-profile tour opening for Nine Inch Nails, Cox remains committed to following his own distinctive muse and avoiding anyone's definition of or preconceived notions about his band.

"I love experimental music, and there was a period when I was about 19 when I was a typical stoner/suburban 19 year-old who decided that pop music was really unnecessary. But I don't think we are an experimental band like Sonic Youth," Cox insists. "There has always been this pop side to me. Our weirdness has always been exaggerated, and I honestly think a lot of it just has to do with appearance and aesthetics. I think it's really easy for people to just assume that we're making extremely strange music just because I look kind of weird or I'm wearing a dress or we're playing a song that's eight minutes long. I'm sure if you did some fancy statistical study about the articles that have been written about us, more people talk about superficial things than actual music, especially with 'Cryptograms' (2007).

"I don't think too much, I'm not a very good at planning things, and I'm a very rash person, but getting back to the current record, the goal might have been subconscious, like, 'Hey, let's see if we can steer people away from this bull---- sensationalistic vibe and just go check the songs out.'

"Really, there is nothing I can think of that would be more annoying than being 'the hype band' or one of those Internet sensations--that's so disposable!" Cox adds. "When I think about the records I really admire, they are not records that got a lot of attention. They are not records that were super-controversial; they were subtle, and at the time of their release, they were overlooked. The majority of records on my Top 10 list, if I had to make one, would not have sold more than 100,000 copies. Like 'Here Come the Warm Jets,' that's a huge influential record for me. It has nothing to do with Brian Eno as a person, because I'm not really interested in his personality. I'm just interested in the weird idiosyncratic, junk shop attitude behind the making of the record."

If Deerhunter has yet to make an album that's quite the equal of Eno's solo debut, "Microcastle"/"Weird Era Cont." is one of the most ambitious and impressive releases this year, despite its rocky launch, and the pop/rock junk shop of the current music scene is all the richer and more interesting for it.

FACTS
Deerhunter, Times New Viking, Disappears
7 p.m. Saturday
Metro, 3730 N. Clark
$17
(773) 549-4140, www.metrochicago.com

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on November 11, 2008 9:32 AM.

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