It’s rare that a record in the indie music scene manages to impress without hints of pretension. Even rarer is the record that captures a feeling of musical joy that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon new musical ground.
“Halcyon Digest,” the fourth studio album by the Atlanta, Georgia indie rock quartet Deerhunter, throws listeners into a sea of musical bliss where each note is a new and wondrous discovery.
The opening track, “Earthquake,” opens with a plodding progression of electronic beats that mounts into a soothing line of arpeggiated guitar chords and electronic tones that creates the sensation of a steam locomotive slowly chugging out of the station and fading into the distance with a ribbon of steam and smoke trailing behind it.
The second track, “Don’t Cry,” continues the train-journey theme with a pulsating drumbeat that transitions into the next track, “Revival,” the lyrics alluding to the resurrection of Jesus Christ along with the light, plinking banjo in the background. This creates a feeling of floating above the music at the beginning of the song. “I am saved, unscathed,” sings lead vocalist Bradford Cox, “and oh, could you believe it?”
Anchored by Ben Allen’s excellent production guidance, lead singer Cox, singer and guitarist Lockett Pundt, bass player Josh Fauver and drummer Moses Archuleta have created a record that seamlessly flows within itself, turning over a new page and exploring its own little musical world.
On previous albums, Deerhunter’s blurred static-ridden music and enigmatic lyrics overshadowed the quartet’s potential. On “Halcyon Digest,” the songs are more focused, the sound stripped down and the lyrics more direct.
The album’s fourth track, “Sailing,” features a softly-strummed electric guitar line devoid of any electronic effects. Archuleta brings up the back end with soft brushes on the drums, and the sound of burbling eddies of water echo faintly in the background. The song lulls you to sleep.
Deerhunter has never lacked ambition. Their previous three albums were marked by a sincere love of music, but “Halcyon Digest” creates a new musical palette by incorporating a wider variety of instruments and vocal techniques — acoustic guitar, electronic percussion, banjo, autoharp, harmonica, vocal harmonies and saxophone.
The band also took a new approach to promoting and distributing “Halcyon Digest.” Fans printed out a vintage DIY-style poster, photocopied it and taped it up all over town. Band members also participated in all-night online chats with some of their most devoted fans.
The album title also indicates a new direction for the band. A halcyon is a bird from the Greek myth of Alcyone, daughter of Aeolus.
Alcyone married Ceyx, son of Eosphorous, the Morning Star. The two lovingly referred to each other as Zeus and Hera, which angered the god of sky and thunder. When Ceyx was out at sea, Zeus threw a lightning bolt at his ship. Ceyx appeared to his wife in an apparition to tell her of his death. Alcyone threw herself into the ocean, stricken with grief.
The gods then changed Ceyx and Alcyone into halcyon birds — kingfishers, to be exact. Each year, they breed in a floating nest at sea after Aeolus, god of the winds, calms the wind and tames the waves.
Today, a halcyon is used to describe an idyllic time in the past, a yearning nostalgia for better times.
“Halcyon Digest” yearns for better music from the past. In all their longing, perhaps Deerhunter has brought back some of that lost musicality, relearning that forgotten language and stepping through that unfound door into the past.