Deerhunter - Biography
Deerhunter’s brief career has been defined by quick success, an unsteady lineup and primary songwriter/singer Bradford Cox’s penchant for extremism. Extremism may be too strong a word. Cox seems like the real deal, a genuinely provocative guy in the long tradition of outspoken and eccentric gay Southern artists. He likes to perform in drag. He likes to maintain a blog that’s extremely open and long-winded, sometimes to a painful degree. But is his behavior a performance art related aspect of the band’s aesthetic, or does Cox simply really like attention? Does it matter? The din of controversy and polarization surrounding Deerhunter has unfortunately served to eclipse the strengths of the band's music.
Formed in 2001 by Cox and drummer/keyboardist Moses Archuleta in Atlanta, GA, Deerhunter quickly garnered a name for itself through chaotic live shows fueled by Cox’s personality. The band’s lineup comes from the Atlanta punk and indie scene surrounding labels like Die Slaughterhaus and Rob’s House Records. Guitarist Colin Mee met Cox through mutual friends in the Atlanta garage band The Black Lips and bassist Joshua Fauver had played with another Atlanta punk band, Electrosleep International. Sadly, the band’s original bassist Justin Bosworth died from head injuries due to a skateboarding accident in 2004. Deerhunter’s debut record was recorded in the wake of Bosworth’s death and Cox has spoken at length of that tragedy coloring the music in a negative way.
Turn It Up Faggot (2005 Stickfigure Records) is a spotty post-punk album with some truly brilliant moments. Sounding like early 90’s Pavement run through the punk rock wringer and shrouded in harsh post-shoegaze noise, songs like “Adorno” and “Basement” hint at heights Deerhunter would soon achieve. It’s also obvious that lyrically interesting things are happening, but it’s hard to make out anything other than snatches of cryptic phrases. Jangly, angular and melodic all at once, the band’s sound caught on quickly with Atlanta rock crowds, as did its outlandish and high-energy performances.
Cox has been vocal about not liking the first record. The direction of Deerhunter’s second and best album upholds that sentiment. Before beginning work on the second record, Cox asked high school friend Lockett Pundt to join the band on guitar. After touring with Gang Gang Dance and Lightning Bolt, Deerhunter ended up having an opportunity to record at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room Studio in 2005. The sessions evidently didn’t go well for a number of reasons and were scrapped. The band returned to Georgia and recorded in the same studio outside Athens where they made the first record. Cryptograms (2007 Kranky) was recorded in only two days. Featuring a much more lush, ambient and drone oriented sound than the debut, it's also a much more inventive record. Mixing the Creation Records sound from shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive with American indie influence from bands like fellow Georgians and Cox favorites Pylon, Cryptograms melds indie pop catchiness and angular post-punk dance beats with textural grit and atmospherics to sublime effect. While nothing exactly new is on offer here, Deerhunter have marked out their own territory with the synthesis of its influences on Cryptograms.
Immediately following Cryptograms, Deerhunter released an EP, Fluorescent Grey (2007 Kranky). Featuring some of the band’s best work, the EP expands on the sound of the second record, adding a further refined melodic approach. This is evident on the title track as well as the explosive “Wash Off.”
In the summer of 2007, original guitarist Colin Mee left the band over differences with Cox. Mee has said that he felt Cox’s looming personality and the tone of his blog was accumulating attention for Deerhunter that had nothing to do with the band’s music. Mee has since toured with the band, but left again in May of 2008 and was replaced by another high school friend of Cox, Whitney Petty.
Deerhunter’s third full-length makes strides toward an even more poppy sound through clearer production and more fully realized songwriting. Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. (2008 Kranky) is the band’s most rock sounding record to date. A reverb drenched Southern twang shows up on many of the songs, creating an almost 1950’s doo-wop vibe that’s been fractured through a psychedelic kaleidoscope. Although much of the harsher end of Deerhunter’s spectrum is gone from Microcastle, the record still manages to mix in thick ambient haze and hypnotic repetition for often stunning results.
Although Cox’s gratuitous personality is obviously inseparable from Deerhunter, the band has made some excellent music that fully stands on its own. Combining classic indie songwriting with psychedelic atmospherics and punk rock energy, Deerhunter’s music has found its own voice. Amid a huge touring schedule (supporting giants like Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins), numerous side-projects (Cox’s Atlas Sound and Pundt’s Lotus Plaza), and constant drama will keep this band around for some time. In 2010 the band releaed Halcyon Digest, follwed by Monomania in 2013.