In terms of critical adoration and sheer output, Bradford Cox’s body of work since 2007 can be put up against basically anyone’s. Starting with the hypnotic shoegaze stylings of 2007’s Cryptograms, Cox has been a force in both Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, reaching a fever pitch with the universally acclaimed 2010 release, Halcyon Digest. Beyond his musical chops, Cox is just a fun character to have on the indie rock scene, whether you’re talking about his legendary “My Sharona”-Gate, his wild and disgusting performance on Jimmy Fallon this past April, or his apparent willingness to speak out on a variety of issues, be it sexuality or Morrissey.
With that said, I’ve always felt a bit less enthused about his work than his hordes of fans, only getting really attached to little pieces of his prolific catalogue. I knew right away that his Atlas Sound collaboration with Noah Lennox on “Walkabout” was and still is great (in fact, that Atlas Sound album, Logos, remains the best thing Cox has made to date). “Strange Lights,” off of Cryptograms, is ridiculously well crafted, possessing the sound of an instant classic. And parts of Halcyon Digest are inevitably masterful and deserving of the intense praise they’ve received. With all that said, I’ve yet to feel real, complete affection for any of his albums beyond a distant recognition of his technical mastery.
Despite my reservations, Monomania was high on my list of anticipated 2013 albums because, with Cox, you never quite know what you’re going to get and the chance for a masterpiece is always on the table. For the most part, Monomania isn’t ‒ and doesn’t strive to be ‒ a masterpiece. But, in typical Bradford Cox fashion, it’s stylistically focused and intriguing, and offers a few transcendent moments that make the whole thing worthwhile.
Monomania opens with the very lo-fi, distorted “Neon Junkyard,” an easy-going song built around some unassuming guitar, ultimately making for a pretty ho-hum start to the LP. The next track, “Leather Jacket II” gives more of a clue as to how far this album will lean in the garage rock direction, messy and free-wheeling but largely triumphant in that it exerts a strange sense of control over the dizzying elements that inhabit it.
Yet the album starts in earnest at “The Missing,” which is probably the most measured song on the album ‒ and undeniably the best. Deerhunter’s ability to create something so affecting lies in the track’s lack of intense sonic viscera, a habit that can occasionally muddy their songs. Although I feel I’m among the few who is so bullish about this song, I don’t hesitate to deem it one of Cox’s shining moments and one of my favorite songs of the year.
The rest of the album is more messy and loose from there on out. “Pensacola” has a country vibe to it that doesn’t make much of an impression, and “Dream Captain” has a similar twang to it but succeeds because it’s compositionally neater and richer. “Blue Agent” is one of the standouts of the album with a lyrical strength reminiscent of some of Halcyon Digest’s best songs. Once again the band finds a sense of clarity and emotional depth once they tighten up the arrangements and ditch some of the garage rock sound. The last truly notable song on the album is the band’s lead single, “Monomania,” which might be the most extreme, unapologetic song on the record and is hard to be ignored, maybe only because the chant of “Mono-mono-mania” is nearly impossible to not sing along to.
Monomania can’t avoid bouts of messiness and, it occasionally suffers from a lack of focus. In fact, it really only works to great effect when Cox avoids packing tracks with a bunch of fuzz and noise and instead lets his superior lyricism and artistry come to the fore. The high points are momentous and truly indicative of a special artist. Unfortunately the rest of the album cannot manage to build around these transcendent moments and instead just makes the standouts look better by comparison.