Atlas Sound: Parallax
Published: November 30, 2011
Bradford Cox knows what he’s doing. Posing on the cover of his new solo album under the Atlas Sound banner, he cradles a vintage-looking mic like a Sinatra-era teen idol in a black-and-white image kissed with touches of pale color, as if it were hand-tinted. It’s an evocation of an older, more forthright era of pop music well removed from the second-generation indie rock of his band Deerhunter and the shoegaze-y beat-pop of previous Atlas Sound recordings. For once the cover tells the story: Parallax is more straightforward pop album than anything he’s done solo, with perverse results.
Most of Cox’s recordings under the Atlas Sound name are truly solo—he plays almost everything via overdubs. Here he sounds somehow like he’s trying not to sound solo, bypassing a more subconsciously canned sound for lush synth-tinged popscapes (see the rippling keyboard arpeggios of “Te Amo”) or more pillowy versions of the same pre-Sgt. Pepper’s three chords-and-a-backbeat pop he’s always drawn on (“Mona Lisa,” “Angel Is Broken”). He’s very good at both at this point. But something about shaving off the quirkier edges of recent Atlas Sound recordings makes the distinct edges of his songs recede here, leaving behind a dozen tunes that struggle to make an individual impression after a dozen listens. Cox is clearly pushing himself in new directions as a singer—e.g., the romantic falsetto croon that lifts off as “Amplifiers” works toward its climax—but little of what he does breaks through the mid-tempo, midrange strum and croon. Meditative ballad “Flagstaff” stands out thanks to a lulling, pulsing extended electronic coda but the rest of the tune fails to outshine its sonic afterthought.
It’s not like he’s making some stab at “selling out”—cover-art semantics aside, Parallax remains resolutely indie in sonics, introverted in orientation. In fact, if this reaches far beyond the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound faithful, he can count himself lucky.
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