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Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

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Artist: Atlas Sound

Album: Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

Label: Kranky

Review date: Feb. 18, 2008

Bradford Cox made quite a name for himself throughout 2007, both as the dress-clad, out-loud singer of queer-punks Deerhunter, and through actions in channels that were more bafflingly strange than musical. To wit, there was a beef with the unflinchingly mellow singer, songwriter, and engineer Samara Lubelski, a row of sorts with Billy Corgan (understandable, I guess), and a blog that was dotted with pictures of what Cox’s meals looked like on the back end.

The guy’s a character, no doubt, and in many ways that persona probably played a significant role in elevating his band to the status they hold now. After all, though Cryptograms was a pretty decent exploration of the more psychedelic and ambient shadings of modern punk rock, having a spindly giant with Marfan’s Syndrome front and center couldn’t hurt the media blitz, especially not when dude is photographing his own crap while picking fights with members of the Tower Recordings and long –since relevant alternarock jagbags.

It’s not much of a stretch to think that a solo record from Cox would be bathed in similarly bizarre pathos, as unrestricted as he would necessarily be in the absence of any bandmates. The surprising thing about Cox’s first full-length outing as Atlas Sound, though, is that he easily sidesteps the drama that dogged he and his band throughout 2007 (and ultimately led to their declaration of hiatus towards the end of the year), turning Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel into a beautifully melancholic slice of shimmering, ambient pop.

Dedicated to old friend and Deerhunter member Lockett Pundt, the debut Atlas Sound long-player is shorn of most of the tension that often made that five-piece so successful. Thus, whereas that band reveled in occasionally uneasy negotiations between the stylized, morbid sexual fascination of Cox’s vocals and the distantly thumping psychedelia of the remaining four members of the band, Atlas Sound is concerned only with the drift, the feeling of release and the gradual glide of passing time and shifting place.

Save for a single hiccupping guitar sample on “Cold As Ice,” Cox handles every instrument on Let the Blind…, a pretty diverse palette that allows him to tackle the more straightforward, droning rock figures of tracks like ‘Recent Bedroom” and the adolescent ennui saga that is “Ativan,” while adding more nuanced mbiras and Ghanaian bells to the sickly bounce of “Quarantined.” Hardly scattered, Cox composes each track with breathtaking precision, bounding between acoustic and programmed percussion while distending his guitar lines into effusive hums that lope off into the distance.

Lyrically, the record’s a tough one to peg. Couched as they are in hazy instrumentals, Cox’s words sound like brief snatches of memories, petite dramas that carry with them the crushing emotional weight of adolescence. “How many boys have you drowned?” he asks during the spare, twinkling chime of “River Card”; though it’s never clear, the chilling implications of such a query are still telling. More compelling still is the growing detachment of “Small Horror,” with its warm guitar figures making for one of the album’s most intimate moments, while the repeated chant of “You couldn’t care less” seems most intent on pulling it all back.

In many ways, Cox’s transition from group to solo work seems to mirror a similar arc traced by one of his more obvious influences: Brian Eno. Much like Eno left behind theatrical drama of Roxy Music for a string of more contemplative, almost theoretical pop records, so too is Bradford Cox walking a similar route. Gone is the visceral reality of Deerhunter’s stage show and claustrophobic sound, replaced instead with a casually introverted mood that gets deeper with each listen. Balancing plaintive pop with a superb ear for atmospheric instrumentation, Atlas Sound’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel supercedes everything else that Cox has laid a hand on this point, if only for it’s surprisingly casual demeanor, an attitude that allows his songs to take their rightful place at the front of the stage.

By Michael Crumsho

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