I guess there are people out there who diligently download and digest everything Bradfox Cox posts on his notorious, frequently updated blog, but I’m guessing that those of us who aren’t perfectly up to date on Cox’s never-ending smorgasbord of digital EPs, virtual 7"s, and other musical ephemera aren’t missing that much. The occasional wade into deerhuntertheband.blogspot.com can turn up a gem (two faves of mine are his somnolent, fuzzy rendition of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Your Break Heart” and the ghostly childhood flashback “Hunting Quail”), but one can only imagine how much better these tracks and others might sound were Cox to give each idea a few hours longer to gestate. In a situation familiar to anyone who looks at rap websites, instead of a handful of well-honed songs from Cox/Atlas Sound every six months, we get a dozen unfinished sketches every week. And the immensity of Cox’s talent is proven by the fact that we continue to find all this sonic marginalia even remotely compelling.
On the other hand, it’s easy to guess what Cox’s response might be to a request for more polish: Have you listened to Deerhunter lately? Those of us who had doubts after the murky fuzz of Cryptograms and the flimsy, overly intimate Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel that Cox had the discipline to write a classic song were knocked on our asses by last year’s Microcastle. On that unapologetically ambitious album, Cox and his Deerhunter bandmates got professional real quick, incorporating a variety of influences, sounds, and emotions into an aesthetic program that wanted to be indie-rock’s new gold standard, which it nearly was.
In the wake of Microcastle, and the similarly enthralling Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP released earlier this year, I might be willing to give the newest official Atlas Sound record a pass: Sure, Bradford, go back to your navel-gazing doodles, and meanwhile I’ll wait for the next Deerhunter rockbomb. The interesting thing about Logos, though, is while the album does conform to the usual Atlas Sound tropes of static-y stopgaps, loopy experiments, and half-baked pop songs, it’s actually pretty damn good. Part of the reason for this is that Cox is simply improving—as a songwriter, a musician, and a sculptor of sound. Another component of Logos‘s success is the widening of Cox’s social circle, the fruit of which comes in a pair of blog-bait collaborations with indie stars Panda Bear of Animal Collective and Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab.
One barrier—or inducement, depending on how intimately you like to know your rock stars—to enjoying Blind was Cox’s unrepentant introspectiveness, in which the album’s lyric sheet read like a minimalist teenage diary with entries about unrequited love, lunchroom awkwardness, and shitty after-school jobs. The lyrical preoccupations on Logos are more varied and abstract, touching on morality, natural beauty, and love in terms ambiguous and relatable. Of course, Cox’s infamous morbidity is always close at hand. Standout “Sheila” is ‘60s pop cooked in shoegaze feedback, its amorousness dressed in gothic garb: “And when we die we’ll bury ourselves/‘Cause no one wants to die alone.” Moody, resonant “Criminals” also bears the stylings of this year’s favorite decade, but the atmosphere is more “Norwegian Wood” than “California Girls.” This strummy, post-acid-trip comedown is Logos‘s dominant mode, and is played to great effect on these songs and others, like the minor-key shuffle “An Orchid” and the bluesy mope of “Attic Light.” Where on Blind Cox’s favored accessory to muse-chasing was an affects synthesizer, this time around it’s an acoustic guitar, and though the album is still more geared toward soundscapes than conventional song structures, it’s a lot easier to sink your teeth into.
Although most of Logos is marked by a bedroomy vibe, its two most notable tunes stand in contrast to the rest of the album: “Walkabout” with Panda Bear and “Quick Canal” with Sadier. “Walkabout” was an especially big hit with bloggers and mixtape makers this summer, and you’d have to be pretty thick not to see why. The song is a near-perfect amalgamation of Animal Collective and Atlas Sound’s respective attitudes, shooting through a tight, damp space with stabs of sunshine harmonies and sampled drums. “Quick Canal” is not as immediately grabbing as “Walkabout,” but in the end the collaboration comes off just as successfully. Sadier’s dreamlike vocals swim through swirls of disco beats and guitar effects while Cox trails after her, the two voices meeting at the four-minute mark only to ascend for another four minutes above a squall of pulsing static, the kind of epic coda Stereolab perfected on songs like “Crest” and from which Cox must have derived a ton of inspiration.
At this point it’s doubtful that Cox will ever let Atlas Sound overshadow Deerhunter. The boundaries between the two groups are certainly porous; just as there were moments on Microcastle where Deerhunter sounded like Atlas Sound, there are portions of Logos that are very Deehunter-esque. But of the two projects, Atlas Sound is the venue for more far-flung explorations and less disciplined attempts at envelope-pushing, and so far the results of that mission have been predictably mixed. Logos is the first time, though, that an Atlas Sound project has cohered as something fully outside of Deerhunter, becoming something interesting and independent enough to stand on its own. The album is intimate, tuneful, and exciting. You don’t even have to know who Bradford Cox is to get a lot of enjoyment out of Logos, and that’s saying something indeed.