Nick Biggs examines Atlas Sound’s latest offering, available free @ deerhuntertheband.blogspot.com
Prolificacy is not an issue for Bradford Cox. A quick scan over the recording dates for this four volume demo set is an intimidating exposition of an unusually active mind – 49 songs recorded in just a few afternoons at his home this Autumn. Artists yearn for days in which they can write a single decent song, for Cox it must be as trivial as remembering to brush his teeth. The man breathes, sweats, and bleeds music, and fortunately for us, he collects it, distills it, and makes it freely available to anyone willing to listen. And listen you should.
It must be emphasised however that these are demo tapes. That isn’t a reflection on the quality of the material, just the fullness of the sound: it doesn’t always reach the rich, textured heights of his previous solo releases Logos or Let The Blind. Furthermore, lyrics are often underdeveloped (if not all together absent) on most tracks, which means these recordings require a little more patience than Cox’s more recent endeavors.
Volume One begins at a snail’s pace but soon picks up. Wild Love is a typical Atlas Sound anti-pop song, stacking a repetitive, layered, whining chorus against a beautiful guitar and synth counter-melody. In the second half of the volume he covers Kurt Vile and Bob Dylan songs, although you would never recognize them from the originals – Cox completely dismantles them in his own unique style. The second volume of the set is possibly the most experimental and eclectic, containing only very rare points of accessible entry. It’s not however, brazen or repellent, merely a little two-dimensional, slightly dull perhaps. Having said that, Here Come The Trains, an epic, twelve minute noise barrage, is full of surprises to jolt you back to full attention.
Volume Three is the most guitar heavy of the four, and kicks off with the most accessible track of the set, Mona Lisa, which is almost a conventional pop song, and an extremely catchy one at that. Border Agents is an all together more sombre affair, as Cox deploys harmonica and silence in equal measures to the point where you can hear his breath on the mic. This is offset by the uptempo Indian Bitrate, providing evidence that these demos are considered and deliberate, much more than a series of disused off-cuts. The final volume is the weirdest but best realised of the four. Farmland Fantasy is a fusion of bird-song to the strangest, most unnatural melodies, yet the finished product is not the Frankenstein’s Monster you might expect. The demo ploughs forward on this course, venturing into the deepest, darkest, and strangest depths of Cox’s musical mind.
A lot of what’s on these tapes, I think Cox would be willing to admit, is experimental horseplay. But it is wonderfully imaginative horseplay. True, these demos have been tacked together with minimal production, but in an age where music production is big business there is something exciting about how raw they’ve been left. All four volumes at times suffer from being slightly overly self-indulgent, but more often than not they are simply a shop-front for an extraordinarily talented musician, and what one man can achieve alone in his basement. Cox’s generosity at making these available for free is staggering. He is truly unique.