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Atlas Sound: Parallax (Album Review)

There’s prolific, and there’s Bradford Cox. Deerhunter’s principal singer/songwriter and Atlas Sound’s sole proprietor clearly doesn’t understand the concept of downtime, judging by the four-volume home recordings released online late last year under the title Bedroom Databank. Those 49 songs – from ambient sketches to psych-nuggets to expansive krautrock – were followed by four versions of the Artificial Snow single, in the same year as Deerhunter’s breakthrough album Halcyon Digest. In 2008, when the band’s Microcastle album was leaked online, they quickly recorded and added another album (Weird Era Cont.) to encourage fans to still buy it – the same year he released Atlas Sound’s first album, Let the Blind Lead those Who Can See but Cannot Feel. In 2009, he was shockingly lax, only releasing one album, Atlas Sound’s second opus Logos. And the amazing thing is, they’re all terrific. Including Parallax.

Only one Bedroom Databank track turns up here, re-recorded of course; Mona Lisa, one of Cox’s prettiest melodies, splicing Merseybeat simplicity with uncanny dream-pop. The other 11 tracks equally tap Cox’s more concise handle on shivery, shimmery melody (he calls them “sci-fi fever dreams”), a long way from Let the Blind…’s swimming ambience and even Logos’ more diverse rhythmic tropes. His fascination with 60s producer Joe ‘Telstar’ Meek continues, brilliant bedroom boffins both, with an obsession and talent for otherworldly, shifting mosaics of refracting guitar and electronic FX (all played by Cox, including drums) that testify to a mind in overdrive, both comforted and haunted by the melodies that spill out. The strange, complicated and confrontational loner that Cox is, Parallax (according to Wikipedia, “a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight” but probably chosen because ‘parallax’ sounds groovy, trippy and futuristic) is stained by a lost, aching mood. To borrow a New York Dolls song title, his solo alias could equally be Lonely Planet Boy as Atlas Sound.

Parallax being Cox’s most coherent record to date, it’s harder to spotlight individual tracks, but individual settings stand out. The opening track The Shakes comes from the same 50s/Buddy Holly-sourced planet as Deerhunter’s Don’t Cry; Amplifiers and Flagstaff are especially ghostly-sad, Doldrums is the trippiest, the title-track relocates Marc Bolan to a western prairie orbiting Mars, and Modern Aquatic Nightsongs sounds exactly that, while posing the question: “Is your love like a sunset chandelier?” Nothing is quite what it seems in Coxworld. But whichever way you look at him, he is currently the most gifted, fascinating and beguiling songwriter around, as well as the most prolific. There’s only one Bradford Cox, but how badly we need more of his ilk.