Search - Deerhunter :: Cryptograms

Genres: Alternative Rock, Special Interest, Pop, Rock
Deerhunter's artsy second full-length record is about contrast; dissonant but melodic, loud and bold yet dreamy and peaceful. Like Spiritualized on a bad trip, the first half is noisy, moody, and mostly instrumental except...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Deerhunter
Title: Cryptograms
Members Wishing: 5
Total Copies: 0
Label: Kranky
Original Release Date: 1/1/2007
Re-Release Date: 2/6/2007
Genres: Alternative Rock, Special Interest, Pop, Rock
Styles: Indie & Lo-Fi, Experimental Music, Progressive, Progressive Rock
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 796441810420

Deerhunter's artsy second full-length record is about contrast; dissonant but melodic, loud and bold yet dreamy and peaceful. Like Spiritualized on a bad trip, the first half is noisy, moody, and mostly instrumental except for Bradford Cox's occasional, heavily distorted sing-talking. But it shifts gears on "Spring Hall Convert" when the music lightens into lo-fi shoegazer pop. Elsewhere you'll find clanging punk, drone rock, and minimalist psychedelia. Sounds like a disjointed experience, right? Well, yeah, it is somewhat, but stay with it. After a few listens you'll hear the consistent sonic smarts that unify the record's wandering tone. The title track for instance comes off like watered-down Joy Division until the feedback kicks in, and the giant guitar blare sets off a charging momentum. A song like "Hazel St." has a goofier appeal, with its slightly awkward intro and loopy melodies. But there's nothing awkward about how the song generously unfolds so that by the end, the only thing goofy is the grin on your face. Such dynamism makes you wish they'd take a little more time in the studio to smooth out some of the record's rough edges, but then again, does the world need another glossy, over-produced record? Enjoy Cryptograms for its messy and scattered charm as well as its deceptively complex intelligence. --Matthew Cooke

CD Reviews

Mike Newmark | Tarzana, CA United States | 06/06/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Maybe this will damage my credibility as a music journalist, but I believe that the best music can't be described in words. I admire artists who have been able to elevate their music above language, and the albums most dear to me have rendered me dumb and hopeless to explain their power.

I was in no way prepared for Deerhunter's staggering, brain-melting Cryptograms, not even slightly. I knew a bit about Deerhunter before taking the plunge: that they hailed from the indie rock no-man's-land of Atlanta, that they've opened for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and that they released an inconsequential dance-punk record that few people cared about. What I didn't know was that they carried with them a tempestuous history involving psychological atrophy, overmedication and the death of their original bassist. Such distressing circumstances clearly inform Cryptograms, but they don't account for how a rock record can sound like nothing else on this planet, or how something so conceptually aversive can also be unspeakably beautiful, or how listening to it for the hundredth time still leaves me stunned and speechless in its tracks.

The first half of Cryptograms was recorded in one day under extreme duress, after the band tried and failed several times to get anything worthwhile on tape. Panic attacks and breakdowns were common during these sessions, but if the band members had to strain themselves to the brink of self-destruction to achieve the album's epic sprawl, then so be it. After a nervy introduction, the oblique title track blazes onto the scene with invigorating force, boasting a lean guitar-bass interaction that turns dance-punk on its silly, ironic head. Next comes "White In," which is just strummed guitar chords running through a delay. It takes guts to place such a formless track alongside the tightly constructed "Cryptograms," but Deerhunter inexplicably turn the combination to gold, as though the two songs were an unlikely yin and yang.

The torture chamber environment of "Lake Somerset" is as caustic and creeped-out as Slint's "Good Morning, Captain," making explicit references to the band's shaky psychological state. The frightened swirl of "Providence" is a lead-in to "Octet," a psychedelic motorik workout that recalls Can in the first minutes, but becomes--paradoxically--more immediate and more spiritual. "Octet" eventually deliquesces into "Red Ink," a pool of luxuriant bells and soft synth tones. The song ends, the tape spins off the reel, the musicians pack up and head home, presumably with their own overwhelming music still ringing in their heads.

Cryptograms's second half was recorded several months later, after everyone had been able to heal. And indeed, there is a marked difference in tone between the two sides. The band actually sounds happy here, but happy in the disoriented sense, as though their old music had been administered a great number of painkillers and antidepressants. From "Red Ink," Deerhunter jumps into a trio of washed-out pop songs that begin with the telling words "So I woke up." My favorite, the up-tempo "Hazel St.," feels like a paean to youth, with Bradford Cox's gentle vocals buried beneath jangly guitar melodies that radiate with childlike wonderment. Though "Tape Hiss Orchid" is only a minute-long ambient loop with a bit of a crackle, it's a brilliant distillation of Deerhunter's newfound comfort that's easy to get lost in.

The final track, "Heatherwood," begins, and suddenly we're faced with a conflict. Sonically and conceptually, "Heatherwood" lies between "Cryptograms" and "Hazel St."; the sun that shone on the album's second half has been overtaken by clouds and all the shimmering surfaces have been leached away. "Heatherwood" doesn't let us off the hook; how dare we assume that these artists have been cured when the past obviously leaves an indelible stamp on the present. When the disc ends, we are left in the same dumbfounded place we started. Luckily, God created the repeat button.

Cryptograms winds its way through disparate genres like post-punk, bliss-pop and ambient techno, but to call the album diverse would be missing the point. The seemingly schizophrenic sequencing actually follows an eerily predetermined narrative arc unlike any we've experienced. Over the course of 12 songs, we are seized by the throat, thrown mercilessly into murky woods, shot at through the trees, lifted up to the sky and thrashed around, lowered back to Earth in an amniotic dream and woken up in a ditch to contemplate it all. It's a journey that few would elect to take, but one that would profoundly affect us all.

I wrote this review in the name of journalistic integrity and my mean recommending streak, but my words can't begin to explain how Cryptograms accomplishes as much as it does. The psychological context certainly helps, but I have psychology textbooks in my room that are far less interesting than this. I've listened to Cryptograms over and over, and no matter how many times I hear it, no matter how many press photos I see of the band smiling goofily, no matter how long I stare at the freaky cover art, and no matter how many chances I may have to pick Bradford Cox's brain, I'll never know Deerhunter or their masterpiece for certain. Great art asks questions. The enjoyment I get from Cryptograms comes from knowing that I'll never find the answers."
Listen once, twice, thrice...amazing
Christian Walker | Portland, OR USA | 02/26/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"at first listen cryptograms is a strange muddle of shoegaze/postpunk/psyche/pop insanity. at times the listener will require much patience. but push on, savor the immediate, make the connections to some favorites like joy division for instance (track 2 is a gimmie). you will be rewarded for sure."
Deeper than it appears
Mr. Thistle | Salt Lake City, UT | 07/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Anyone who has heard even a moderate amount of the praise spewing forth for Deerhunter's sophomore album, Cryptograms, is in for a let down; at least initially. At least I am speaking for myself (as always). Released by the almost incomparably high standards and consistency of Chicago based Kranky label, Cryptograms is an oxymoron of sorts. Marrying early 90s indie rock with their new label's penchant for experimental, ambient ear candy, the theory of Deerhunter's sound is a marvelous one. However, my first listen was like getting punched in the face. After an almost Kranky required minimalist instrumental intro Deerhunter crushes your preconceived ideas of lilting and inspiring melodies with a garage of course unadulterated rock. For a couple of weeks I couldn't get past the first few songs. The one day I pushed my way through to the last have of Cryptograms to find that the hardnosed beginning morphed into a wonderfully satisfying shoegazer pop. Interspersed with several ambient instrumental tracks throughout the album, it is only as a whole that Deerhunter's Cryptograms can be appreciated and subsequently dissected into individual songs for one-off enjoyments. Cryptograms is, in my opinion the true grower album of 2007. The accolades can now be verified as accurate. Seriously, I love the first half of the album now as much as the last. The context has somehow opened up the entire album like a vision. Do not sleep on Cryptograms, this is one of the better album indie rock albums you're likely to find this year."