Deerhunter: Cryptograms

Atlanta-based Deerhunter has weathered more than its share of storms—personnel changes, a band member's death, and financial strain among them—since its 2001 inception. Two years in the making, the group's second full-length and kranky debut, Cryptograms, finds the group cathartically channeling that angst into a dozen songs. Beyond its hypnotic caterwaul, the release offers a fascinating study in duality, given that an initial 2005 stab at the album's first half was deemed unacceptable (the sessions derailed by technical and personal problems), thereby prompting a more successful one-day session a year later; Cryptograms' second half (from “Strange Lights” onward) was also laid down in a single day, though this time in November 2005.

It's an unpredictable and eclectic mix of loud and soft material, and the band keeps things interesting by generally alternating instrumental and vocal tracks. Admittedly, the more conventional song-like pieces make an immediate impact: the title song—raucous garage rock fueled by the howling buzz of guitars and distorted vocalizing—is fine but hardly groundbreaking, while the similarly-styled “Lake Somerset” is discordant garage-rock filled with strangulated guitars and unintelligible yelps. The band's ‘instrumental' persona is far more interesting. The album opens with a memorable overture of raw guitar psychedelia, moves onto ear-shredding drones of six-string rumble and howl in “White Ink” and a propulsive maelstrom in “Octet,” and counters that aggressive attack with meditative washes (“Providence”) and a dreamy, bell-sprinkled drone (“Red Ink”). The second session's material is more accessible, the sound cleaner and jangly songs like “Strange Lights” and “Hazel St” so poppy, jubilant, and concise, they not only sound like natural singles but the product of a different band altogether; significantly, the second half's instrumental quota is limited to the one-minute interlude “Tape Hiss Orchid.” In addition to much else, Cryptograms inspires as a case study in perseverance and resurrection.

January 2007