The Cover's Version
You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can at least get some clues as to what's inside. And the highly-stylized make-over of Bradford Cox on the front of the third Atlas Sound LP, Parallax, communicates plenty. For one: Cox has never been on the cover of an album before; either on the two prior LPs for Atlas Sound, or the five full-lengths of his more-famous outfit, Deerhunter.
Appearing on the cover would, perhaps, suggest Cox has grown comfortable in the public sphere, but, instead, it's more that he's learnt how to exist within; how to adopt a performative persona rather than play the confessor. And this is how he's photographed, by legendary rock lensman Mick Rock: as a coiffed crooner seductively clutching an old radio microphone; an effective rock'n'roll pantomime that speaks, clearly, of Cox's evolution from bile-spilling renegade of the Atlanta underground to one of the elder statesmen of Generation Pitchfork.
Deerhunter's 2010 opus Halcyon Digest was the dramatic signpost of this development; a totemic longplayer that gloriously, unexpectedly ushered Cox towards adulthood in a dreamy hazy of nostalgia, pain, sadness, delay, and mid-tempos. That form holds on Parallax, in which Cox happily luxuriates in many a musical clime that would've seemed unlikely for a dude who debuted with a scorched shoegaze screecher lovingly called Turn It Up, Faggot.
The Singer Sings Lovesongs
If Cox has entirely become the crooner he plays at on the cover, he's at least become a singer. There's a strength and clarity in his delivery, now. His performance on "Nightworks" is full not just of conviction and emotion, but diction and dexterity; his oft-wordless howls aren't red-raw screeches, but employed as interpretive instrument.
On "Te Amo" Cox lets loose his love on the line/s "we'll go to sleep/and we'll have the same dream!" with a kind of studied abandon; his voice alive with ecstatic wonder but never overwhelmed by it, like an actor interpreting emotions whilst being entirely in control of them.
If talk of actors and performance and pantomimes makes Parallax sound insincere, it's anything but. The album plays as candid in sentiment and romantic in tone; the plaintive melancholy of Halcyon Digest giving way to something more wistful and winsome.
Death Becomes Him
Yet, the themes still hold: this is an album about finding transfiguration from suffering; about escaping suburban upbringings —and the psychological prisons they impose— through either will, music, drugs, or death.
On "Parallax," Cox sings flatly of trauma: "Give me pain/give me bruises." On "Terra Incognita," the unknown terrain he charts is what waits beyond. And, then, on the record's glorious sign-off, "Nightworks," Cox carols "everywhere I look there is a light/and there's no pain."
Like El Perro del Mar on her holy From the Valley to the Stars, Cox points Parallax heavenward, floating upwards, from the earthbound to the ethereal, with each passing song. This and Halcyon Digest make for twin studies of the passage of time, just in different ways. Last time, the songwriter lamented loss, here, he welcomes the inevitable.
Record Label: 4AD
Release Date: November 7, 2011