Since their breakthrough with 2007's Cryptograms, Deerhunter's subsequent musical trajectory has been one of natural and seamless progression. 2008's Microcastle, and the EPs that fell either side, each seemed to pick up where the last release left off, slowly evolving the band's sound from dissonant krautrock and ambient soundscapes to lusher, more melodic pastures. Halcyon Digest, not surprisingly, continues their evolution, with the band's most textured effort yet.
There's much about Halcyon Digest that recalls Deerhunter's recent work - the strutting rhythms, Bradford Cox's drowsy vocals - but it's like the band have submerged their sound underwater. Opening track Earthquake and Helicopter are layered in dreamy textures, autoharp and sloshing sound loops. The slow and gentle drift of Sailing effectively mimics its tale of being lost alone at sea, and the album as a whole seems to ebb and flow, with the hazier likes of Sailing and Basement Scene placed alongside the much more vibrant Revival and Memory Boy.
As the band continue to shy away from the noise of their earlier work, the line between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, Cox's solo project, gets increasingly blurred, but the contributions of guitarist Lockett Pundt are a timely reminder that Deerhunter remain very much a band entity, and he puts forward two of the best (and perhaps most conventionally "rocking") tracks here. Desire Lines rides in on the stomp of Arcade Fire's Rebellion (Lies) and a descending note riff, and rides out on a simple yet deeply satisfying extended guitar coda. Fountain Stairs is a more straightforward, though no less enjoyable, surge of chiming guitars, replete with a blasting bridge.
Cox meanwhile does his usual thing, swimming about his own headspace, spouting out contradictions ("I lived on a farm yeah / I never lived on a farm", "I wanna wake up/I don't wanna wake up"), but he also delivers a couple of career-best performances here. On Helicopter, perhaps the highpoint of the album, Cox swoons "No one cares for me/I keep no company" over a pillowy and luxuriant chorus, whilst his strained delivery on the closing He Would Have Laughed adds a fitting tenderness to a track dedicated to the recently departed Jay Reatard ( the track cuts off abruptly, perhaps a reference to Reatard's untimely death). Above all, there's an abundance of wonderful touches throughout Halcyon Digest that make the record truly shine; the saxophone which wraps itself around Coronado is as unexpected as it is brilliant, and the ripples of autoharp that break in He Would Have Laughed are plain gorgeous.
Halcyon Digest is then, yet another great entry in an increasingly great catalogue, one which, like any of its predecessors, could legitimately be held as a favourite. Whilst some may wonder where the noise and bluster has gone, it would be foolish to think that these elements of Deerhunter have gone forever; remember how Weird Era Cont. brilliantly deconstructed the band's sound? In the meantime, I'm more than happy to ride the wave Deerhunter are currently on.