Deerhunter - Monomania
Anyone looking for the title Monomania to serve as a “witty” by-line for their review of a repetitive, mundane record is to be sorely disappointed: the only irony here is that an Ahab-ean singularity of focus has never been a musical trait of the Atlantan quintet Deerhunter. As well as being one of the most prolific acts in the business - this is their fifth LP, alongside a plethora of EPs and side-projects such as Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound and Lockett J. Pundt’s Lotus Plaza - they’ve also been one of the most diverse. Equally capable of the haziest of dream-pop, shuddering walls of noise, and tracks apparently suitable for remixes by trap/banger-purveyors like Diplo and Lunice, the latest professed metamorphosis of their sound into comparatively stripped-back garage-rock comes as no surprise.
Whilst much has been made of the ‘avant-garde’, dark and noise-based aspects of this record though, Monomania might actually be their most accessible release. The moments of sonic detritus and distortion which ‘Leather Jacket II’ attempts to force its way through, and which are particularly highlighted on the title-track’s clattering decomposition into the sound of a clunky lawnmower engine, are really elements that are few and far between.
Instead, though the lusher moments of Halcyon Digest are at a premium, there’s a plethora of elegant, emotive and engaging tracks laid out amongst Deerhunter’s wares. ‘The Missing’ captures a down-tempo Strokes-vibe perhaps better than Casablancas & co. have since Room on Fire; the shoe- gaze vibe of ‘Sleepwalking’ allows a particular emotionally devastating regret and self-awareness to simmer beneath the reverb: “When a decade is spent searching / For something time will never bring / Something starts to shut down inside.” There’s even a place for the breathy, almost uncomfortably intimate, lo-fi acoustic strumming of ‘Nitebike’.
Between these well-handled polarities of sound on the record however, there are undeniable flaws. Much of the record’s middle appears cut from the same cloth, and though there’s nothing inherently wrong with the listening-experience - they each individually hinge on some appealing or intriguing riffs, textures and choruses - there’s a certain memorability lacking in the material. ‘Pensacola’ doesn’t ever really lift off the ground, and ‘Dream Captain’ suffers a similar fate; even lyrically the themes and narratives of romantic escape blur into one another. Whether it be a jilted lover’s trip on the Greyhound bus to Florida, or into nautically-located sexual submissiveness, the core sentiment feels the same.
Despite these gripes though, which undeniably lowers the standing of Monomania as a whole amidst the rest of their rich catalogue, the adeptness and imagination which has grounded so much of the band’s output is a rewarding feature throughout. They’ve maintained both their natural compositional ease and expression despite their fragmentary and diverse spectrum of sound, and, perhaps even better, their knack for an acutely satisfying sonic hook or outcrop – whether haunting or heartening. Though they don’t quite hit the heights to the same extent here, the unity of these two particular artistic features which condition their ability for such consistently high-grade material, still very often produce the goods.