If you don’t already know, Deerhunter is a force of nature in the indie world, both socially and musically. The group itself is almost less of a band than it is a collaboration between two of the most prolific figures in indie rock, Bradford Cox (a.k.a.Atlas Sound) and Locket Pundt (a.k.a. Lotus Plaza), even if technically, the band released two albums and an EP before any official release from either one.
But despite their prolificacy and media frenzy around them (read: Cox, the most controversial member of the group), Deerhunter first and foremost makes excellent music. Cryptograms, their second album and breakthrough (and the first Deerhunter album Cox doesn’t disown) is absolutely, one hundred percent excellent, and it remains my favorite. The album is split into two halves (on vinyl, two discs). The first half is more atmospheric, with an occasional song peering out of the ambient fog of droning guitars and synthesizers with meaty bass lines and heavily-echoed vocals. “Lake Somerset” veers closely to ambient dance punk, while “Octet,” but for its one-note bass pound, might escape a casual listener for its ambience.
The second half is the conceptual opposite: of the five tracks, only one (“Tape Hiss Orchid”) is an instrumental. The rest are hazy pop songs with hypnotic pounds and shoegazy guitar jangles over trance-like vocals. With the inclusion of the Fluorescent Grey EP on the fourth side, this record almost becomes two separate albums, one more ambient focused and the other pop-song centric.
But the remarkable thing is, they do both well, impressing on each half of the record. Sadly though, as their career has progressed, Deerhunter (and Atlas Sound) have moved away from the atmospheric aspects of their palette. And while the rest of their catalogue is just as excellent, no one does ambient indie rock the way they do here, leaving a void that only Cryptograms can fill.