‚ÄúPunk. It manifests itself in many ways, and for him it was just there like a neon strobe light. And now it’s not there anymore. I need punk rock. It’s the medicine for me, but it’s bitter and sickening.‚ÄĚ
– Bradford Cox in an interview with Larry Fitzmaurice for Pitchfork, published November 10, 2011
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt care if it was great. Was it punk?‚ÄĚ
– ¬†Bradford Cox immediately following Deerhunter‚Äôs unveiling performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon of the title track of their new record Monomania, in another interview with Larry Fitzmaurice for Pitchfork, published April 29, 2013
ACT ONE: SETTING OF THE STAGE
‚Äúfinding the fluorescence in the junk‚ÄĚ
are the first intelligible words on the record, and they are of peerless importance to everything that follows. Some sounds precede it – a slowly winding guitar figure that is already rolling, some ghostly hollering and muttering, more guitars that serve to further funnel the spiral, a big, dark cough – and they all matter. But not as much as those words, for they are as blunt and honest of an opening statement that we could hope to receive. Hosts are rarely this direct.
Themes are introduced: Transference; Identity; Fetishization. Neon/fluorescence is referenced again. An early appeal is made to those of us in pain (any kind of pain), because we are being rounded up for a very particular kind of celebration. One thing is made abundantly clear: the free-associative leanings of the singer‚Äôs past have been done away with. His words – along with every other sonic detail present – are deliberate in a way that is, while not entirely unprecedented in past work, is still shocking in its clarity. The vocals are placed so boldly out front in the mix on purpose. Undermining their consciously constructed mask of filth and echo, every syllable is enunciated with great precision. The singer very purposefully – and successfully – positions himself as something bigger: The Singer, capitalized. A Greek chorus. He concludes his mission statement with a suggestion that salvation can be found in his words (or somebody‚Äôs words, anyway).
A thesis surfaces, and it‚Äôs something along the lines of, ‚ÄúDirt can cleanse you – Celebrate your garbage.‚ÄĚ If you find that idea inherently unappealing and/or nonsensical, you might want to put another record on.
Leather Jacket II
As suddenly as the newfound clarity in communication appears, it just as quickly evaporates in a brief burst of feedback. The Singer takes shelter in a blanket of echo, as it‚Äôs the only way he can save himself from the brutality of the music. There is lots of hissing, which makes sense, because the track at hand is entirely about the fetishization of machines (though it‚Äôs easy to forget this fact, instruments are machines). Words are present, though they may as well not be. After about two and a half minutes, every sound falls into another, creating an expertly engineered clatter. By evoking the ‚ÄúL.A. Blues‚ÄĚ sensory-overload shit-jam rock n‚Äô roll trope and somehow resisting the urge to place it last in the track-list, the cliche is not only smartly avoided, but re-contextualized as an introductory showcase for The Singer‚Äôs equally indispensable (though, for the purposes of this production, wholly separate) co-star: The Rock N‚Äô Roll Band.
The title is of great, simple significance, too. But that goes without saying. Subtlety has no place here.
‚Äúfollow the telephone wire until i feel there’s air beneath me‚ÄĚ
This is the last expositional detour before we really get deep into the sea of things, and one of perhaps two songs on the album that truly sound like they could have been present on one of the group‚Äôs previous records. It‚Äôs also the only song that isn‚Äôt written by The Singer, which makes its thematic complementation to the rest of the record (ie. restlessness, search for identity, firm allegiance with outcasts) all the more remarkable – its inclusion stands simultaneously as a testament to the seamless, obsessive construction of the record and as a re-staking of the flag on previously conquered territory.
ACT TWO: PLAYING DRESS-UP
‚Äúthis town ain‚Äôt gave me nothin‚Äô but a bald head and trouble‚ÄĚ
AND SO we are ushered into the road, rolling, tumbling, stuttering like pill-heads. The sun is so bright it fucking squeaks through your hangover. The Singer has completely abandoned all sense of self in order to play in the sandbox of the Rambling American Road-Story, somehow managing to conjure the ghost of a child that Kerouac and Fogerty never actually birthed together (at least according to all available public records). The Band has taken the shape of an ass-beat jalopy, pumping and wheezing along old dirt roads that haven‚Äôt actually existed in decades. The Singer continues to spout off the beginnings of a dozen different bullshit travel tales, never finishing any of them, and you just kind of nod and smile because you‚Äôre getting higher than you ever thought you could be off the cheap whiskey clouds that are floating out from behind his broken teeth. ‚ÄúI could be your boyfriend or I could be your shame,‚ÄĚ he says, sounding just wounded enough for you to seriously consider both offers.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm a boy, man, and you‚Äôre a man, man‚ÄĚ
The Singer slides effortlessly into the skin of another myth, that of the Self-Loathing Rock N‚Äô Roll Po‚Äô Boy. No hope, no future, but his misery is his chosen aesthetic, and so this song is a celebration. Offering up flesh for transcendence. Wanting nothing more than to simply get the hell out of Dodge, The Singer – or rather, his momentary avatar – offers Richard Hell a blowjob. Whether or not this transaction comes to any conclusive end is unclear.
‚Äúyour finished task was a burden, I‚Äôll give you that conceit‚ÄĚ
The storing away of costumes, at least for the time being. The Singer chooses to remark on his own experience as a living cipher while The Band ticks away metronomically in a fashion that we‚Äôre familiar with. Actually, scratch that. The Singer‚Äôs insistence on pointing out the faithless artificiality in his own distance is just as much of a performance – something done for our benefit – as was present on the two preceding songs. The Band, exhausted by this point from having to keep up with The Singer‚Äôs operatic whims, gives out in a pretty, unresolved sigh.
ACT THREE: IS THAT HUMANITY I SMELL?
‚Äúhe came out a little late…maybe that’s where frustration’s born‚ÄĚ
Cracks in the facade begin to show. Through some set of intangibles that only begin to become apparent after about a dozen listens, ‚ÄúT.H.M.‚ÄĚ and the two songs that follow it feel different. The Band does not play any less savagely, and The Singer is no less enamored with the deep, dark sea he‚Äôs filled for himself to swim in, and the songs are no less beautiful/fascinating/repulsive/puzzling – but something feels undeniably…absent. For these three songs, we get the feeling that The Singer has left the capitalizations and the distance and the magnificently full-bodied aesthetic fetishizations – all his myths – in his other (leather) pants, reverting back to variations on themes and stories old followers will be familiar with. ‚ÄúT.H.M.‚ÄĚ is one more excellent entry in a long line of evocative treatises on growing up sad, hard, and wrong. A casual reference to a mentally unstable younger sibling is particularly haunting. All of the previous set of songs‚Äô theatricality crumbles in its earnestness. The furious, sneering euphoria and broad, iconographic imagery of the record‚Äôs first half is nowhere to be found.
‚ÄúI’d been looking for some harmonies
Some words to sing that could really bring
The lonely-hearted some company
All the people that were just like me‚ÄĚ
Another sad song that feels too specific to possibly be a pose. The third verse could be the key to the whole record – granted, not the myths, but to their deconstruction.
Back To The Middle
‚Äúthis is where love has left me, it’s an endless cycle, please don’t take it away from me‚ÄĚ
A genuine frustration with a series of dead-ends in love. The only way to deal with the repeated rejections is to claim them as a part of you, an extension of what is probably the record‚Äôs foremost theme. A couple of harsh accusations are thrown around, along with references to earlier songs (the bald-headed schmuck from ‚ÄúPensacola‚ÄĚ, the cabin of the Dream Captain‚Äôs ship). The Singer threatens his return.
ACT FOUR: WE LIKE OUR FINALES BIG AND WE LIKE ‚ÄėEM FRENCH AND RIM-BOWED
‚Äúcome on God, hear my sick prayer‚ÄĚ
The Band rumbles into self-assembly, like watching sand go up an hourglass. Having laid dormant for ten whole minutes and realizing he simply must wrench the light back or die, The Singer leaps forth, gnashing spastically into the wind. The Band, hissing and clattering like a factory, builds a storm, and The Singer is its center. He continues to spit, all manner of rock n‚Äô roll vernacular rushing out of his mouth. Grunting like an animal, throwing empty, violent ‚Äú-uhhh‚ÄĚs onto the end of every other word, garishly drawing them out. Everything is neon. The only thing clear is The Singer‚Äôs desperate bile. All the fantasies of the past have proven to be prisons: Pensacola is a ghost town. He can no longer remember his dreams. Somewhere along the way the pose of pan-sexual lust mutated into love, or at least something like it, and he finds himself ill-equipped for its unfairness. All he‚Äôs left with is an epiphanic clarity for the coldness of his obsession. The Singer, never one to miss an opportunity to turn a moment into melodrama, begs for release, bowing before God, and God turns out to basically be Patti Smith. Surrendering to something bigger, The Singer finally gives himself over to The Band, matching spasms, smashing bottles, relentlessly chanting the name of his ailment in the hope of casting it out. As The Singer fades from sight and sound on the back of a half-broken Yamaha, it feels like a triumph.
Someone cheers, though it‚Äôs not clear who, or what for.
‚ÄúI was a dream of myself…I was no longer mine, I had pantomimed‚ÄĚ
A confessional monologue of defeat in which The Singer, now faced with freedom, must deal with all of his own bullshit.
No aesthetic checklists, no myths, just problems.
Even so, he can‚Äôt help but yearn for a time when his power was undeniable. ‚ÄúSay you‚Äôll be my babe. You‚Äôll want to relate, you‚Äôll want to stay,‚ÄĚ he mumbles, leaning into your shoulder. You grimace this time, because undignified decay is always sad.
Punk (La Vie Ant√©rieure)
‚ÄúFor a month, I was punk
I remembered all my junk
In the daze, in the daze
I remembered all my days
For a week, I was weak
I was humbled on my knees
Picked to fly, make it stop
Help me, find me some release
For a year, I was queer
And it conquered all my fears
Not alone anymore
But I found it such a bore
For a month, I was punk
For a month, I had no luck
For a drunk, I was young
For a joy ride to the……..
For a month, I was punk
I remembered all my junk
Younger days in a daze
I will speak my useless days
For a week, I was weak
I was bound on my knees
Pray to God, make it stop
Help me find some release‚ÄĚ
A summative post-script. An off-brand Rolodex of identities spins hypnotically, eternally.
¬© ¬†Justin Santelli, Music Vice
Internet link: Deerhunter
Share and discuss using the links below. Follow Music Vice on Twitter at¬†@MusicVice. Long Live Indie!