Monday, February 9, 2015

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest Review (2010)

The recent surge for gay rights has benefitted everyone involved, especially those forever looked down upon for their sexual beliefs. In the past their thoughts weren't commonplace, their feelings not mutual with the rest of society, they had no one to relate to. Hit songs rose the charts sexualizing women for the guys to lust over, leaving gay men with no one to idolize other than numerous gay celebrities whose shtick of being gay merely a mocking point for everyone else. Even the one hit song made about "doing it in the butt" from a guy was merely a gag intended to be laughed at. Momentous occasions seem to always happen surrounding the turn of decades, this much is evident whilst looking through the musical lens, as numerous ground-breaking albums sending discourse through modern society have been released near the switch, from Doolittle and Paul's Boutique, to Kid A and Stankonia, to My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy and this, Halcyon Digest. The album exposed to the masses through Deerhunter's lead singer Bradford Cox the life of a closeted gay boy, retelling it leaving no stone unturned, the hollow, bare, loveless life that being unaccepted is. 

Previous Deerhunter albums were always elaborate affairs. From double albums, to halved sonic sounds, Halcyon Digest is entirely bare-bones, stripped down to contain only the essentials. What's left is what makes music enjoyable; riveting guitar riffs, spiraling synth waves, crooning, eerily detached vocal harmonies, and saxophones, glorious saxophones. Truly, there's nothing remarkably adventurous about the production, it's rather a masterful culmination of sounds comprising everything from Psychedelia to Garage Rock to Shoegaze, bundled up, strictly-composed, brilliantly-arraigned. The opening guitar melody of 'Desire Lines,' nearly replicating Arcade Fire's 'Rebellion (Lies)' that would not in the least bit be coincidental considering both songs' topics, drifts inwards while expressing itself outward into a nearly four-minute instrumental breakdown mind-numbing listeners into a hypnotic trance. The downtrodden lull of 'Sailing,' never breaking from its predominant quietness, explodes into 'Revival' just as listeners begin drifting off on the calm seas. And the warped, hazy recollection of 'Earthquake' reeks of nostalgic subconscious lingo with its reversed hi-hats, tingling strings, and chopped & screwed-esque beat distortions. All of these examples bring nothing new to the table, but it's their structure and atmosphere that create an ever-lasting sound.

The bread and butter of Halcyon Digest rests on its theme, without it the album itself would be reduced to musicians with talent devoid of a message. The concise coherency displayed throughout is a welcomed renewal of a genre increasingly content on throwing the kitchen sink at you in terms of content or regurgitating it all to replicated forms of delivery. The focus of Digest is its crowning achievement, the mystery in not knowing whether it's all about Bradford Cox or not only adds to the album's mystique. The cover itself, a black and white photo of a man in drag, accurately displays the colorless life of those enduring the closet as their body seeks to attract to the opposite sex. The core of Digest isn't merely concerned with the emotional state of neglected homosexuals, it benefits greatly from its focus on those surrounding them causing the mistreatment. 'Memory Boy' tells of a son being evicted from his home, pleading to try "to recognize your son, in your eyes he's gone" as Cox cleverly flips that into "is there anyone who wants to see the sun go down," morphing it into a sexual shame. Or see 'Helicopter' which looks at the life of a gay porn actor turned human trafficking victim in Russia, being used and abused, knowing damn well that "no one cares for me, I keep no company." It's these bleak offerings that reel us in in an attempt to help those scorned by others.

The highest possible inclination of something bearing down on the lead boy's feelings is his own internal battle with religion. The God he believes in does not accept him for who he is, and by the trickle down process, neither do his servants. On songs like 'Revival' religion plays a prominent role in circumventing the feelings Cox has for other men, as a meeting with God calms his worries that he won't accept him. Despite this reassurance the boy still needs to exist on an earth where millions don't and this battle between belief and expression positions the album in a divinely contradictory place, nestling its sound and lyrics to silence and confusion. The limited highs, like on the climatically exhilarating 'Coronado,' with its brightly tinged piano riff and sky-raising sax exhibiting a freedom unparalleled before, are met with intense lows while the rest remains settled in a life of solitude, mimicking one literally squandering in a closet. The ethereal feeling Deerhunter fabricated is one that can only come from experience, as few can relate enough to the tribulations of a gay man enough to express its subtitles sonically, of which Halycon Digest masterfully accomplishes. 

On the album's closing track, 'He Would Have Laughed,' Deerhunter return to their two-fold knowhow, as the front half contemplates one's new-found life as the latter focuses on a blurry afterlife, all dedicated to the late Jay Reatard. It's the self-realization the lead needed the whole time, as lines like "sweetness comes suffering" and "I won't rest until I can't breathe" sound off like lines written for one's eventual grave stone, as optimism replaces hardship, as the wounds begin to heal. Its skeletal frame, with chanting percussion and rolling drum lines, transition into a dream-like state turning the bones to dust, as the withering soul of someone confined to a closet finally gets released. The track acts as the best possible closer the album could have received, tying up loose ends better than Oscar-worthy movies are capable of. And then it cuts off mid-note, as the rising soul is met with imminent death. Halcyon Digest is a deflating walk through the life of one overcome with hate. Not from within manifesting outwards, but directed at from others. Few albums can lay more claim to demonstrating the ramifications of life as a confined homosexual than Halcyon Digest, and none have shown it at a better time. With its easily impressionable lyrics and pleasing, yet expertly crafted sound, Deerhunter's 2010 feat will last as a standing testament to the countless lives who succumb to their torment, and the ones who outlasted it with a chip on their shoulder. 

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