eep within a dense forest run wild with flickering neon streams, the twins I’ve imagined to be responsible for creating Deerhunter’s Cryptograms meet for the first time. Though conjoined then separated at birth and cast upon hard lives diametrically opposed, they thrive in symbiosis, pointing out shared scars, identical features, stories from the past possessing similar arcs. Most bizarre is their ability to communicate in primal vocabularies: codes and grunts, moans and shrieks. And with that, the twins embark to solidify this discovered union, to find the missing links, to journey inward only to realize they’ve been following each other from the beginning…
Deerhunter, an Atlanta quintet and not the whimsy of my wandering mind, come eerily close to perpetuating some kind of myth on their Kranky debut. To crush the imagination, Cryptograms was recorded in two separate sessions, on two uncut reels, and with intentionally designed objectives: to ventilate the nightmares and the dreams that reportedly battle in the band’s damaged psyches.
The album’s first half is the problem child, medicated at a young age to subdue constant anxiety and the fear of death, overly mired in thoughts of regret and anguish, overwhelmed with ideas and insight. The monochromatic, fetal post-punk of the title track shimmers with electronic buzzes. This is the kid that was never loved properly, never allowed his fullest potential. The angst finds catharsis in “Lake Somerset,” a song that has the headlong thrall of Th’ Faith Healers best takes, though we’re all the more fucked as discernible lyrics are drowned in washes of fantastical guitar scrawl.
The other half fares better: he’s had a more clear-headed, undeveloped, and pastoral existence. He’s the lucid one, wearing his welcome in the Athens hinterlands, preferring the fuzzy cling of the Gerbils to Neutral Milk Hotel’s direct heart-stings. It’s in the second act that Deerhunter let this instinctive pop force unfold. Part of Cryptograms’ struggle comes in waiting for the blissful psych moments found on “Spring Hall Convert,” or the album’s purest song, “Strange Lights.” Innocent riffs and shiny baubles take precedence. Not that I have a preference, but on the finale, “Heatherwood,” a haze that has clouded most of the proceedings is lifted, as if the subdued mind triumphs over the more eccentric and challenging one.
Despite the polarization of themes, Cryptograms is cohesive—the two sides coalesce around a handful of ambient meditations. Deerhunter could survive alone as such a group: the bulk of their echoed ragas and drones are both invigorating and hypnotic, much like Animal Collective’s transcendent waves of ghostly chant and numbing strum. But these serve a higher purpose, acting as bridges between the twins’ severed lives and an amniotic comfort zone where they can regress to their time in utero. For Deerhunter they provide space to evolve, drowsy filler between the more realized lapses of clarity in their songwriting. Cryptograms is by no means a flawless record, but taking the time to speak its language, tap into the dueling forces that make it tick, is an intriguing reward.