Album Review: Halcyon Digest

Unfortunately, 2010 has been a sadly unmotivated year for independent music. Fledgling bands such as Best Coast and Wavves have been riding on massive torrents of praise from Pitchfork Media for their beachy fuzz-pop and simple song structures. Why this new trend of musical laziness has garnered such a huge following is confusing and, honestly, pretty disappointing The once heartfelt and truly original realm of independent music is on a slump of strikingly average bands who seem to embody and revel in mediocrity. Deerhunter’s latest effort, Halcyon Digest, stays on a path very similar to this lackluster sound that has defined underground music for the past few months.

Bradford Cox, the locally-bred band’s enigmatic frontman, regresses from his excellent solo effort Logos, and strays from the energetic highlights of that album in favor of a more accessible sound that is strictly bound to conventional verse-chorus songwriting and a lack of recognizably lively instrumentation.

Halcyon Digestopens with a dreamy wash on “Earthquake,” which trudges on without any clear aim but is slightly guided by some interesting percussion. From there, the album goes on with almost no energy, and maintains the same dreary medium-volume level and tempo. Finally, “Memory Boy” steps in with small bits of brisk vigor, but it’s still muddled by plain, boring melodies and unmemorable hooks. After that, the tracks become increasingly better, with some parts that actually make the songs worthwhile, such as the droned guitar collage in the second half of “Desire Lines” and the driving saxophone accompaniment in “Coronado.”

But really, the album boasts few successful snippets, and instead is full of songs that are quite average. The album is very close to being actually good and not just forgettable—but it’s still a miss. Simple adjustments, like amping up lyrical refrains or exaggerating crescendos, could easily propel these tracks past mediocrity. There are countless points where I was waiting for the band to take off to another place, but they just backed down and moved on instead.

Lyrically, these songs follow the same tired doldrums of the music, aside from a couple of notable spots. In between coping with the physically frustrating boundaries of Marfan Syndrome (which Cox suffers from) and the deaths of close friends, Cox has an emotional vantage point that he often times skirts around or speaks about too vaguely to really latch onto. For choruses, he tries to sell universally-themed lines like “Tired of my pain”(“Helicopter”) and “You learn to accept whatever you get,” (“Sailing) but he presents them in agonizingly typical ways. The few bouts of vocal originality are captured within mournful refrains like “Sun on my shirt, sweat on my hands, all falling in retrograde, off of “Fountain Stairs.” Bradford clearly has the ability to draw us into his mysterious world, but he opts to play it safe instead.

Maybe he fears being too honest for risk of embarrassment, but it is that personal risk which crafts the most memorably haunting music that endures. That very chance is what originally spearheaded the primary values of independent music and is what makes it so meaningful. While none of the songs on Halcyon Digeststand out as distinctly bad, none of them are distinctly good, either—which leaves the entire work at a boring middle-ground that’s just okay.