KRANK 114: Atlas Sound: Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (2008)
Usually when an artist splits off from his or her main band for a solo project, there’s an obvious contrast—it’s more stripped down, or more lo-fi, or more experimental—somehow less attached to the primary band’s overarching aesthetic. Not so with Bradford Cox’s debut full-length as under the name Atlas Sound. Plus or minus a few minor sonic details, the tone, texture, and dynamics of Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel is right in line with the aesthetic trajectory Deerhunter were on from Cryptograms (KRANK 104) to Fluorescent Gray (KRANK 107) a year earlier, heading toward Microcastle on the near horizon. The bulk of Let the Blind sees Cox continuing to sand down Cryptograms' harder edges while blending psychedelic haze with melodic hooks.
To be fair, Cox operated under the Atlas Sound moniker for years, pre-dating Deerhunter even if there were not many official releases to document that history. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this is the sound he manifests. In any case a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses are here—there’s the bouncy shoegaze-pop of “Recent Bedroom” and “River Card,” and there’s also Cox’s half-awake, drawn-out vocal delivery, as on “Quarantined” and “On Guard,” in which he seems to ooze his words rather than sing them. It’s an overused mannerism in Cox’s arsenal. His drunk-haze delivery reminds me of the Pink Elephant scene in Dumbo—weird and wonderful in the moment, but Cox is almost all Pink Elephants all the time. Cox reportedly did not spend a lot of time on the lyrics or vocal elements of these songs, and it often shows.
Let the Blind finally begins to set itself apart midway through, when Cox’s use of laptop electronics begins to feel less like a low-budget bedroom constraint and more like a definitive asset to the Atlas Sound aesthetic. “Cold as Ice” is buoyed by a quirky, laid-back loop over which Cox squeezes out the title phrase. It’s followed by the percussive “Scraping Through,” which manages to swirl and stab simultaneously. The album then segues into a pair of textured atmospheric tracks before returning again to the Deerhunter-lite sound for the home stretch. The album concludes with its best track, the instrumental title track, blissful and beautiful—and freed from Cox’s mannered persona.
Of course, one’s opinion of Deerhunter necessarily dictates whether or not any of this is a problem. Personally I like Deerhunter but have never fully loved them (perhaps explaining why I’ve never spent time with Atlas Sound beyond a clutch of mp3s on my hard drive). Same goes for Let the Blind—it’s a fine record, nearly worth it for the final track alone. Something different—anything different—might have been refreshing.