The Tripwire: Deerhunter’s Flashback to (the Gold Sounds of) 1990-Something

Greetings from Pavement week here in New York City—when music writers everywhere are treating the reunion package with far more enthusiasm than the shrugs Pavement themselves seem to be giving from the stage. It legitimately feels like we've traveled back in time: Malkmus and the greatest band of the 1990s is once again on stage belting out the greatest song of the 1990s to crowds far bigger than those who actually cared during the 1990s. Superchunk is selling out shows. Weezer is taking a break from making preposterous album covers and touring off Pinkerton. Don't need to elaborate on any of that—do a Google search and you'll find plenty of exposition—but I do, in fact, fully welcome the way the 1990s felt.

It's not so much for the reasons everyone else seems to be touting. For one, the album that's quickly making our way to the top of my year-end list, Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest (which is streaming on NPR until its September 28 release), feels more openly nostalgic for 1990-something than any of the aforementioned bands who were were actually making music in 1990-something.

This would seem literally true based on a statement Deerhunter mastermind and charming weirdo Bradford Cox made in response to a Facebook question. He said the title is a reference to "fond memories and even invented ones," in terms of "the way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that’s kind of sad." This comes through on the record largely in the sense that it is the most straightforward record he's made to date. Where Cox before seemed vague or symbolic, he now seems direct and often soul-bearing on Halcyon. Where he once would have used a feedback-covered anecdotal line or gray statement to express a fear of aging, he now simply states, "I don't wanna get old."

And as he travels through nostalgia and the editing of his own memories, we do, too—especially if we're roughly his age. Though the album has a Beach Boys pop sound, it isn't limited to one era, other than the overwhelming garage '97 zone we've entered. Brief moments feel alternately Arcade Fire song, but then at times it switches over into—dare we say—early Wilco territory, or it has the brief feelgood ride of a Strokes song. But the most important aspect—where previous Deerhunter records felt like they could have come from no epoch other than the one we are living in, this one is fully rooted in the Cox's time, when Pavement was still practicing in their own basement.

On "Don't Cry," the second track on Halcyon, which effectively sets the tone for the rest of the record, Cox laments, Come on little boy. I am your friend. And I understand the pain you've been in. It's hard to say whether he's talking to the listener or himself at this point, but it feels like it's the first time he's directly addressing either one. This is a record where Bradford Cox feels as though he is fully coming into his own self: on a musical and personal level and, wow, is this a sight to behold. Even through the lens of Clinton years.

(Ed: This article was written in advance of Halycon Digest's release and without the benefit of an official copy of the album or track info. As it turns out, guitarist Lockett Pundt did the vocals on "Don't Cry." All in all though, still feels to us like a sentiment Cox would support and empathize with.)

The Tripwire: Deerhunter’s Flashback to (the Gold Sounds of) 1990-Something