When I was a kid, I would alternate covering up one of my eyes and note the difference in perspective when viewing some random household object. It was often frightening how wildly different the right and left eye took in a book, a table, or the pet dog. This, apparently, is a parallax: the measurement between two sightlines perceiving the same object. Atlas Sound’s new album is thus appropriately named, as it pushes a capricious frame of reference amid a constantly changing sonic landscape. With Parallax, Bradford Cox has crafted the ultimate driving album for a night in the American Southwest: dusty, deserted, and cold, but full of quirky, colorful flourishes, rich without ever feeling overstuffed, and quietly reflective in ways that eschew heavyhanded pensiveness.
The album, however, isn’t quite the leftfield diversion one would expect to follow on the heels of the Panda Bear-esque Logos. Typically, Atlas Sound has existed as a form of mad-scientist escapism for Cox, a sandbox-meets-laboratory venture where he’s free to pursue the dreamy promises of Deerhunter’s music to their natural, experimental ends. Compare “Walkabout,” his collaboration with Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox, to Deerhunter’s “Helicopter”: Both are bubbling, atmospheric pieces from a semi-brooding romantic, but while the former is unpredictable and amorphous, reveling in alt-folk noise, the latter can’t quite escape the rigid pop-song limitations underneath all of its ancillary clicking and whirring. Parallax is more closely aligned with the structured sound of Deerhunter, and often plays like a disjointed, ambient footnote to Halcyon Digest.
Yet the fact that Parallax is no great departure from Deerhunter’s ouevre does little to dampen its gorgeous vision. As tracks like the warbling “Doldrums” prove, Cox has a talent for crafting slow-burning, loosely assembled masterpieces, his music drifting skillfully beneath his breathy, unguarded musings. A rugged twang characterizes songs like “My Angel Is Broken” and “Te Amo,” the latter a countrified harpischord fantasy that cements Parallax as the ideal soundtrack to a lonely, psych-folk excursion into the desert. It wouldn’t be surprising, in fact, to hear any of Parallax‘s 12 songs, particularly the disquieting “Flagstaff,” accompanying the surreal depiction of amateur meth trafficking in sunny, saturated Albequerque that Breaking Bad so effectively portrays.
Such is the depth of Cox’s visual and narrative imagery, lending the album a storybook flair to go along with its hallucinatory qualities. Though it often finds him treading familiar ground, Parallax is the first record in which Cox fully embraces the role of a magical-realist storyteller, recounting dreamily desolate tales as much to himself as to his audience.