Atlas Sound "Parallax"

On Further Review
by Cara Giaimo

Incredibly prolific, self-avowedly monomaniacal, and outspoken to a fault, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox never does anything halfway. It’s unsurprising, then, that when he records solo under the name Atlas Sound, he goes all the way solo. Cox wrote, composed and recorded everything on the third Atlas Sound album, Parallax, on twenty-one different instruments, ranging from Telecaster to rhythm box to “collage.” This level of control allows Cox to go wherever he wants with his music, and on Parallax, he’s chosen to travel inward. The record takes the listener on a sonic and emotional journey into Cox’s interior landscape, with results that are often beautiful, sometimes difficult, and always interesting.

This landscape turns out to be lonely, but surprisingly varied and expansive. Cox relies largely on his usual sonic palette, anchoring his songs in fuzz-padded guitar, precise drumbeats, and bright clusters of synthesizer. But by constantly rearranging how these elements are clumped together, bringing in other instruments for cameos, and loosening or tightening the reins on his singing voice, Cox builds every song into a new scenario of isolation. The lyrics, which read like pages from a diary that occasionally slips into the surreal, give voice to whichever emotional facet of Cox inhabits each scene. Propulsive opener “The Shakes” posits Cox as a rich and famous loner stuck in the trappings of his life – “see the horror on my face/I can finally leave this place” he sings, proven wrong by guitars and drums that endlessly entrap him. “Parallax” opens with chugs and gasps and describes an inability to entirely relate to others – “your pain is probably equal,” he allows, “probably” being the operating word. “Doldrums” finds him describing, sing-songy and resigned, “a little boy who went through hell” while a cave of piano and timpanis expands around his voice.

Not all solitude is bad, though – in “Terra Incognita,” he plays a lone explorer, crooning tales of traveling with only “cards and caravans” for company over glistening guitar. Four minutes in, the song changes – it crests a dune and shows us little galaxies made of trembling notes and nonsense syllables, immersive and lovely.

Parallax album cover...

Atlas Sound - Terra Incognita

The richness of the sounds and the construction of the arrangements – and the bravery of the soul-baring that they evoke so well – make Parallax a rewarding listen. But it can be hard to be hemmed in so close with someone, even a gifted musician like Cox, for nearly fifty minutes. By the time the closer, “Lightworks,” comes around, listeners will be glad to hear him, voice strutting, exalt that “everywhere I look there is a light and it will guide the way.” Where the light is leading – we’ll have to wait for the next record to find out.

Atlas Sound
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