Toronto – Legendary Film Critic Pauline Kael once described Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller as a “beautiful pipedream of a movie”. After all of the rattling on I’ve been doing about: a) Bradford Cox, b) Deerhunter, c) Atlas Sound, I will save the long-winded gas bagging for the rest of the review. For those of you who don’t wish to relive an obsession not unlike Homer Simpson’s painfully annoying Thomas Edison-mania I suggest you stop reading now. All you really need to know is that Atlas Sound’s LP “Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel” is 2008′s “beautiful pipedream of an album”.
Description of my social interactions in the past month:
Me: Have you heard of Atlas Sound?
Captive: No, but I’ve heard Deerhunter’s Microcastles album. It was good.
Me: Nevermind that, it was great. But Altas Sound is Bradford Cox’s solo project. It is beyond good. It is amazing. It is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It is a sonic orgasm. Did you know he has Marfan Syndrome? And produces not only a free MP3 a day for download off his blog, but goes so far as to design cover art for the free downloads? And is gay? And is a self-professed 26-year old virgin? And is the greatest twenty-first century musical talent America has ever produced?
I admit it, I’m smitten with Cox. Every aspect of him simply fascinates me. I affectionately refer to him as Coxy Boy even though I will probably never meet him. He has changed the way I think of songs and music. Like all great art he has spawned countless open-ended questions I have in regards to what his songs mean and where he gets the inspiration to put out his constant outflux of music. My pea-sized brain is filled with all sorts of enquiries about what his upbringing was like, who his friends and family are, where he lives, who looks after his cat when he’s on tour. If you were to see a photograph of Cox you’d understand that all of this gushing is based purely on the enigmatic aura of his music.
It’s just that good…
Just like everything else great in this world LTBLTWCSBCF is not for everyone. Some will find the purely instrumental, unconventional timing, and open-ended feel of some of the tracks pointless. How else would you describe the harrowingly weird opening “A Ghost Story”, a two and a half minute bite of mixed narration and sonic eerieness? I’ll admit the temptation to pick apart the influences of each track is strong; one might hear some of the Breeders’ Cannonball opening; others might suggest Japan’s Ghosts; My Bloody Valentine; Neu; the list is endless because Cox is producing music that is different and well outside the realm of major label possibilities, though not without widespread indie appeal. Since I am just as guilty of the comparison crime as any other wannabe-reviewer in this world I will concede that I guess it’s only natural to want to identify what is not immediately identifiable.
In my heart of hearts though, I believe C just wants to make music and puts no thought into how the general public will perceive it. Take for example his admission that du-wop girl groups have highly influenced him. After that was published, every music critic this side of the Mississippi was tearing through Microcastles trying to pinpoint examples of it. I’m not saying you can’t hear it…it’s certainly evident on tracks such as “Recent Bedroom” (sounding like the cousin incarnate of Microcastle’s “Twilight at Carbon Lake”), the excellent “Bite Marks”, and “Ativan” (one of the hands-down standouts of the album)…what I’m saying is that classifying cross-genres is not the goal of LTBLTWCSBCF. Producing a pure, spontaneous, cosmically whole artistic vision is.
Since the Pitchfork review has already attempted to decode the meanings behind the lyrics and songs, I’m going to take a different approach. “River Card” sounds like a sprinkling of fairy dust cascading down a sheer curtain against a sunbeam. “Quarantined” tastes like an obsolete, nostalgic candy that you thought had been pulled off the shelves long ago. “Ativan” smells like a musty french scarf with lingering sweet pea perfume that probably belonged to someone who used to be pretty. And if that wasn’t pretentious enough for you, “Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel” feels like sonic cottonmouth brought on by some hallucinogenic drug. While this is an assumption I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think Cox wants anyone to dissect and decode his music. He has mentioned that is part of the wonder of My Bloody Valentine. No liner notes. No printed lyrics. Just a helluva lot of mystery. And isn’t it more fun that way, anyway? I remember having the same experience with Harmony Korine‘s early Dogme 95 films. You go in not knowing much, enjoying something different and hauntingly beautiful in an admittedly bizarre way, and then wracking your brains out speculating about the possibilities.
The bonus CD Cox included with the Import 4AD release is beyond good with enough material to make another EP entirely. “Another Bedroom” sounds like Cox is covering “Recent Bedroom” (off the original Kranky-released LP) in an alternate bizarro world universe where everything is slightly askew. “It Rained” sounds like it could have ended a 70′s school dance that ended in an acid tragedy. “The Abandoned Swan” sounds like radio soundwaves getting lost in transmission. I don’t know what the hell “Spring Break” sounds like (slowed-out Polynesian dance on drugs??) but I get lost in it when I’m staring at Windows Media Player’s Battery visualization.
If this album has anything of an edge over Cox’s collaborative project with Moses Archuleta, Josh Fauver, Whitney Petty, and Lockett Pundt (aka DEERHUNTER) it’s that it feels more like a living, breathing organism. It has that tantilizing crypticism of someone you have seen but don’t know and often wonder about. When I listen to this album I feel like a lovesick alien flying through the cosmos in what people in the 50′s must’ve imagined space was like. It is not as polished as Microcastles and feels less like their self-described “schitzo mixtape”. Even though Microcastles is my number two pick for best album of 2008, LTBLTWCSBCF still trumps it in the end. BUY IT!
Just a sidenote: Spend the extra $10 and buy the 4AD Import version. It includes the 6 extra tracks Cox threw in for this later international release and has some amazing sleeve art.