May 2, 2013

When Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox donned a Siouxsie Sioux wig and some ragged Stones-esque attire for his band’s recent performance of new single Monomania on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, he wasn’t being himself. He was playing a character – Connie Lungpin. Connie staggered off stage midway through the vocal refrain of the tune, stumbled through the show’s set to get to an elevator, and even stole someone’s drink along the way. Cox’s performance suggested a sort of cheeky self-parody, or even a mocking stab at the “rock star” trope – a vision of someone gone a little mad. Deerhunter’s sixth album, also titled Monomania, delves deep into Cox’s ever-changing public personality, yet ends up feeling messy, hollow and even a little half-hearted at times.

The fact that Monomania spawned from what was apparently a hundreds-strong collection of emotionally-crippling depression-fueled songs written by Cox is not surprising. His songwriting – alongside that of guitarist Lockett Pundt – isn’t as polished or as detailed as it was on Halcyon Digest or Microcastle. Whilst the band describe Monomania’s sound as “nocturnal garage” – a description which is quite fitting – the music revives a certain early-rock lo-fi aesthetic, which is somewhat resistant to the semi-futurism dotted throughout the band’s recent work.

The filthy guitar mess of Leather Jacket II is enough to make even long-time fans a little squeamish, although its garage-rock intensity sits promisingly at track number two. What’s strange is that this energy is routinely cut off – the album’s momentum is stop-start. Following track The Missing is spacey, slightly subdued indie rock, but nothing overly memorable. Then there are the tracks which feel bodiless and under-developed, namely the quirky Blue Agent and the scattered T.H.M., in which Cox seems strangely isolated.

Lyrically, Cox’s stream-of-consciousness method doesn’t always buoy the more promising moments of Monomania. On Dream Captain he makes a cute reference to Bohemian Rhapsody with “I’m a poor boy from a poor family“, but also utters the strenuous line “I’m a boy man, you’re a man man“. He even rhymes “punk” with “junk” and “luck” on album closer Punk (La Vie Antérieure).

The highlight of Monomania is its title track. The sound is a perfect balance of scratchy guitar, retro eight-track production, built-up agitation and euphoric release. Cox’s lyrics are powerful, not silly or semi-gibberish like they are on other songs. The track breaks down into an anthemic final section in which he screeches “Monomonomania, monomonomania!” for a good three minutes. A really good three minutes. It doesn’t completely mask the album’s flaws, but it makes it clear that Cox wants the world to have a visceral reaction to this album, and it’s apparent that he no longer cares about whether that reaction is a positive or negative one. Come to think of it, there’s something beautifully punk about that.