MUSIC Deerhunter's new album is the most cohesive in the group's young career. Compared to the booming opening seconds of 2008's Microcastle, the lead-in to Halcyon Digest (4AD) is downright mousy. A simple drum machine sputters in and out like a robot clinging to life before a dreamy guitar line sets the scene for five minutes of textured feedback and a distorted vocal melody from lead singer Bradford Cox. It's a pretty start to what is often a stunningly beautiful album.
Gone (for the most part) are the more brawny, driving moments of Microcastle and the My Bloody Valentine-style shoegaze tracks from its accompaniment, Weird Era Cont. The new material has more in common with the mellower, head-in-the-clouds style of Atlas Sound, Cox's solo project. But perhaps the biggest stride comes in the full embracement of hooks and melodies that were often buried in previous efforts. This is a pop album through and through, in the best sense of the word.
Tracks like "Don't Cry" and "Basement Scene" evoke squeaky-clean 1950s artists like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers if they'd been doped up on morphine. Elsewhere, the sparse five minutes of "Sailing" drift by on little other than Cox's bare vocals, largely stripped of the megaphone distortion and short-echo slapback found throughout most of the album.
Fans will most certainly also notice the band's expanded sonic palette. Self-recording in its home base of Athens, Ga., Deerhunter enlisted the Midas-touch mixing help of Ben Allen, known for his glossy stamps on Gnarls Barkley recording and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion. Thrown into the band's customary psychedelic haze is everything from banjo ("Revival") and saxophone ("Coronado") to what sounds like a harpsichord on "Helicopter."
It should be interesting to see how this new album plays out onstage. So much discussion over the past few years has mentioned the ferocity of Deerhunter's live show — Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs once referred to it as a near-"religious experience" in the NME. The band will have to find a bridge between its known intensity and the more hushed attention to songwriting found on Halcyon Digest. Considering these guys have yet to take a single misstep, I'm thinking it won't be a problem.
With Real Estate, Casino vs. Japan Fri/29, 9 p.m.; $17
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF
Also Sat/30, 9 p.m., $17
333 11th St, SF