Atlas Sound
Label ©  Kranky
Release Year  2009
Length  43:47
Genre  Indie
Personal Star Rating [1-5]  
  Ref#  A-0159
Bitrate  ~193 Kbps
    Track Listing:
      The Light That Failed  
      An Orchid  
      Walkabout (With Noah Lennox)  
      Attic Lights  
      Quick Canal (With Laetitia Sadier)  
      My Halo  
      Kid Klimax  
      Washington School  
    Additional info: | top
      Review by Heather Phares

      Bradford Cox was a virtual song machine during the time between Deerhunter's Cryptograms and the Atlas Sound's Logos, churning out officially released material as well as plenty of songs only available on his blog. Over that span of time, he became a finer and more fluid songwriter, and his music emerged from the experimental fog of his earlier work just enough to give listeners tantalizing glimpses of almost ridiculously catchy songs. Logos keeps this push-pull between challenging and charming, yet Cox's second solo album still feels more experimental than Deerhunter, if only because he seems completely unfettered by any kind of rules or concerns about consistency. These songs barely sound like each other, yet they all sound like Cox. Logos comes into focus slowly with its first three songs. "The Light That Failed"'s hazy atmospheres slip effortlessly into "An Orchid"'s spectral recall of Microcastle's psych-pop, but it's "Walkabout," Cox's irresistibly sunny collaboration with Animal Collective and Panda Bear's Noah Lennox, that announces that the album has truly arrived -- it's as sudden, and satisfying, as tuning in a perfect pop song from radio static. From there, the album hops from sound to sound, ranging from acoustic rambles like "Criminals" to glitchy confections like the kaleidoscopic "Washington School." However, Logos' most striking moment is "Quick Canal." Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier lends her instantly recognizable vocals, which pile atop spiralling electronics that stretch for nine minutes, yet somehow feel much shorter than that. And while the album is more abstract than most of Cox's work with Deerhunter, it still favors his subversive pop side far more than his first Atlas Sound album, the insular laptop collages of Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel. The sugary innocence of '50s and '60s pop remains a major influence here, especially on "Sheila," which boasts a chorus ("we'll die alone together") that is equally sweet and unsettling. Even though Logos isn't as polished sounding as some of Cox's other releases, it's still captivating in its relatively raw state. These songs are nearly as wide-ranging and comprehensive as an actual atlas, but Cox keeps charting new territory.

      Pitchfork Review:

      As we've gotten to know Bradford Cox over the last couple of years through shows, interviews, and blog posts, one of the Deerhunter frontman's most appealing qualities is his deep and nuanced appreciation of the music of others. Some musicians listen to records to see how they work, check out the competition, or trawl for ideas; by all available evidence, Cox feels records, deeply. If he was born without musical gifts and couldn't sing or play an instrument, one can imagine him working at a record store, amassing an enviable collection while driving people on a message board crazy with the sureness of his detailed opinions. Whatever you think of his exploits as an indie rock media figure, Cox's music fandom is easy to identify with and also offers a portal into his own work.

      Atlas Sound, Cox's solo alias, in one sense serves as a sort of laboratory for figuring out what makes some his favorite music tick, away from the expectations of his main band. Two collaborations on Logos, the second Atlas Sound full-length, are excellent examples of how music listening can be absorbed into original work. First is "Walkabout", a track Cox wrote and recorded with Noah Lennox from Animal Collective, whom Cox got to know during a European tour. Though Cox's music shades dark and Lennox's is often flecked with uncertainty and doubt, "Walkabout" is the sunniest pop tune of either of their careers. Coasting on a buoyant, twinkling keyboard sample, it is a starkly catchy and irresistible, a clattery post-millennial Archies tune that straddles perfectly the border between simple and simplistic. Interestingly, it also sounds very much like a Panda Bear tune.

      Then there is Lætitia Sadier of Stereolab, who wrote the lyrics and sings lead on Logos' "Quick Canal". The song opens with some gorgeously textured organ chords and soon a steady-state beat and drums rise up in the mix, setting the kind of relaxed-but-propulsive neo-krautrock scene that Stereolab perfected very early on. Here Cox gets to play the part of the late Mary Hansen, adding "la-di-da" trills behind Sadier as she intones phrases in her unfailingly lovely, for-the-ages voice. He even throws in a "Jenny Ondioline"-style rupture about halfway through, sending the track into a breathtaking shoegaze section for its final four minutes, wherein it floats magisterially on a pillow of shifting guitar feedback. "Quick Canal" is almost nine minutes long and it doesn't waste a second.

      On these tracks, the confidence Cox shows in melting his aesthetic into the soundworld of other musicians is striking-- both are unqualified successes, very different from each other but among the best things Cox has ever done. But they also sound a lot like the music his collaborators are known for. Cox's sympathetic support and sense of how to construct songs with others suggests a desire to expand the parameters of what Atlas Sound can be. And given his willingness to let others take the microphone on an Atlas Sound project on these cuts, I can't help but go back to Cox's words on Logos before the album was released, which suggested that this was to be less introverted and that was "not about me."

      And then I remember that the cover of the album consists of a photo of Cox with his shirt off and the lyrics in the first two songs start with the word "I", which suggests that we probably shouldn't take these statements very seriously. While the songs may or may not be "about" Cox in the strictest sense, the overall vibe is at least as introverted as 2008's Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, and every note bears the same signature. With its strummed guitars, hushed double-tracked vocals, and tunes more reliant on ambiance and feel than melody or rhythm, Logos feels every bit as diaristic and personal, but with Cox, that's a plus. At this point, we're not looking to this guy for commentary on the outside world; we want to hear him wrestle with private demons in the sanctuary of his bedroom, bathing every sound in reverb to give the illusion of space and as a sonic balm against loneliness and figuring out how to make music as affecting as the stuff he loves to listen to.

      So tracks like "The Light That Failed", "An Orchid", and "My Halo" (the latter two, though different in tone, are further entries in Cox's growing line of melancholy waltz-time shuffles) function primarily as the kind of eerie, blown-out mood music he has become very good at. They are amorphous sketches that still manage to convey feeling, capturing the sort of sad, exhausted, and fragile emotional state that is Cox's area of expertise. "Shelia", a taut pop song with a great chorus hook, is a change-up, though the repeating refrain "No one wants to die alone" fits with the rest of the record's themes. And "Washington School", with its dissonant chime of metallic percussion that sound like gamelan or evilly out-of-tune steel drums, contains the record's most interesting production, with thick drones reminiscent of Tim Hecker and menacing rhythm track.

      So some things are different, some are the same, but all of it works well together. It's true that every time Cox ventures out of his comfort zone on Logos, you wish that he'd go even further and embrace extremes-- of tunefulness, tradition, noise-- that don't necessarily come to him naturally. He may yet take a big leap with Atlas Sound, but here the steps away, though rewarding, are tentative. For the rest of the record, Logos feels familiar and assuring, another affecting dispatch from a corner of indie music that is increasingly starting to seem like one Cox pretty much owns.

      — Mark Richardson, October 22, 2009
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