World of echo

Pub date March 5, 2008
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

It’s been 20 years since My Bloody Valentine released their breakthrough album, Isn’t Anything (Creation) — long enough for it to be wound up in a younger generation’s musical DNA. For how frequently the band is referenced by both musicians and critics, the rich double-sidedness of MBV’s peculiar attack often gets simplified as "swooning" and "ethereal." Erstwhile Deerhunter vocalist Bradford Cox is one of the few shoegaze suitors who seems clued in to the searing — and often distressing — tensions that distinguish My Bloody Valentine from followers like Slowdive and Ride. In Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky), his first official release as Atlas Sound, Cox has worked out an exquisite combination of shoegaze and laptop pop, a fucked-up beauty waiting to be adored.

A self-described "queer art punk," the young Atlantan first turned heads for his Internet indiscretions and outré performances with Deerhunter. The words Cox used to describe author Dennis Cooper in ANP Quarterly may as well be his own propulsive mantra: "The only thing he does to infuriate so many people is to write honestly, expressing things that most people would prefer to stay far under the surface."

While Cox’s transgressions have previously edged up to mawkishness, Let the Blind channels his confessional tendencies into a newly retrospective shape. Atlas Sound’s source material, aesthetic means, and subject are inextricable from one another in the same manner as Jonathan Caouette’s first-person film, Tarnation (2003). Much glitchier than Deerhunter’s Cryptograms (Kranky, 2007), the Atlas Sound home recordings are almost exclusively about the soul-baring, delicious isolation of being alone in your adolescence. Cox has described "Quarantined" as being about children with AIDS, though the main refrain, "I am waiting to be changed," resonates with Morrissey-like wistfulness.

The music on Let the Blind drifts uneasily between bliss and terror, the heavily doctored mélange of glockenspiels and guitars conjuring a narcoleptic glow. Drone pieces like "Small Horror" and "On Guard" concentrate on specific intense emotions, while fuller arrangements like "River Card" and "Bite Marks" entangle youthful romantic obsession in soft-hewn bass melodies and howling vocals. The shoegaze textures may be Cox’s equivalent of Proust’s madeleine, but it’s in the treated, divested vocal tracking that Let the Blind achieves its deepest immersions.

On "Winter Vacation," the chords seem to be pulling each other apart, reaching for different resolutions — so too with the rest of the album’s balancing act of sensuousness and numbness — though never so far apart as we think. Cox has written extensively about aiming for catharsis on his heavily trafficked blog, but Let the Blind comes off more as a prismatic refracting of past intensity and indolence. It’s teenage confusion done in Technicolor, and that ought to be enough to change more than a few kids’ lives.


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