Monomania is a great record. The band maintains a delicate balance of experimentation and accessibility. A must-own if you liked their previous record.
I’ll just preface by saying that I absolutely love Deerhunter. The Atlanta-based band feels like a mad scientist, throwing together genres, tropes, instruments, and ideas into a cauldron all the whilst cackling madly. In 2010, the band released HALCYON DIGEST — an album that would streamline the band’s music into a (mostly) no-frills version of Deerhunter. The album was commercially and critically successful, but importantly, it felt like the band had turned a new exciting corner. For that reason, 2013’s MONOMANIA has been highly anticipated — would we get another HALCYON DIGEST? Or would the band turn its next corner and move on to new sounds? Would the band retreat back into its past catalog in response to their newly received attention? The answer to these questions is “Yes.” MONOMANIA is sort of all of these things.
The album starts off with “Neon Junkyard” — it’s a tumbling tune that mostly dictates the course of the album. It takes 20 seconds for the song to take a coherent form, but before this time, “Neon Junkyard” is an amorphous collage of sounds with none of them really fitting together. At the magical 20-second mark, all the music catches in step and we get a very clear, precise melody that occasionally detours and meanders. The band has described this album as “Nocturnal Garage,” and while that description is apt (like the album’s cover), I think “Neon Junkyard” might be more fitting. As a whole, this album is made of old, discarded parts: lo-fi alternative rock, 80’s era shoegaze, Hank Williams-era country, etc… The band has taken all of these parts and thrown a neon light onto it all, so what could come across as a strange, experimental, self-indulgent is now accessible, catchy, and well… fun to hear.
The second track “Leather Jacket II” is a confident, sneering rocker similar to something The Hives would release. “The Missing” is in the vein of “Desire Lines” and “Fountain Stairs” from HALCYON DIGEST; it’s a “normal” song as far as Deerhunter goes, and what makes this song great is what makes all of Lockett Plundt’s penned tracks good (a solid melody, a shoegaze atmosphere). The song would probably make a good starting point for anyone new with the band, and you can think of it as a way to dip your toes into a chilly pool music-wise. It’s probably not a mistake that the record’s most accessible song comes directly before “Pensacola,” the record’s strangest. “Pensacola” sounds like the Hank Williams and Pavement had a child that was sick of Florida and decided to hit the open road. The song might be the only track on this album that feels like Deerhunter is completely out of its comfort zone (and having a great time doing so), but it works — the song is a rambling boot-slapping ode that couldn’t be further in musical space from “The Missing.”
“Dream Captain” borrows one of rock-n-roll’s most famous lines (“I’m a poor boy from a poor family”) and repurposes it into the beginning of a haymaker chorus. The title track is notable for its last 3-minutes: the song goes off the rails and turns into a cacophony as Bradford Cox chants “Mono-monomania” over and over again. Trust me here, it’s sounds much cooler than it reads here. The final track, “Punk (La Vie Anterieure)” ends on a lo-fi note, with the band barely playing its way through the song. While I say that the band is barely playing, I mean this in jest of course, but that’s the perception of it and what makes this (and other Deerhunter albums) so great. There are plenty of points on this record that sound nearly out of the band’s control, but these moments are all firmly in place — when the music begins to careen off course, it always feels structured and planned, so it always feels exciting but never sloppy.
Bradford Cox, the frontman of Deerhunter notorious for his bizarre on-stage (and off-stage) antics has written every track here except for “The Missing.” If anything, this record doesn’t feel as personal as anything he has released in the past (Deerhunter or Atlas Sound). For that reason, I suspect that Deerhunter has become his “rock-n-roll” project where his most solo Atlas Sound has become a place to release his melancholia. I wouldn’t say that there’s an ironic distance here, but more of a carefree, shrug of an attitude.
Overall, MONOMANIA is a great record, and one that only suffers from comparison. There are plenty of points where this album rises to the heights set by its predecessors, but it’s different and it has different intentions. Additionally, some of the tracks here suffer from comparison as well: “T.H.M.” feels just plain boring when you put it in the context of “Pensacola” or “Neon Junkyard,” but the truth is it’s a good song that is in the middle of a great record. I suppose that MONOMANIA never really comes together as a whole (although it is bookended with similarly styled tracks) — the record feels a bit more like a grab bag of Deerhunter tracks. At any rate, I highly recommend this album to any fan of indie-rock or alternative. If you are new to the band, MONOMANIA might not be the best place to start. I’d recommend 2010’s HALCYON DIGEST before this, for beginners, but most of what makes that album so great is also present here as well. If you haven’t enjoyed a single Deerhunter record before, I don’t think this one will break the cycle for you either.
Essential tracks to sample/download: “Pensacola,” “Monomania,” and “Leather Jacket II”.