Atlas Sound - Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (released February 19, 2006; Kranky Records)
Atlas Sound is the brainchild of Deerhunter's lead singer Bradford Cox. If you've been a reliable reader of this website, you may recall that I'm loving their two releases last year; the creepy and ambient full-length Cryptograms and the equally stellar Fluorescent Grey EP. The atmospherics on both of those records is present here, actually I'd be remiss to point out that this record is a bit more haunted.
The album starts off with a child's voice narrating, the aptly named A Ghost Story. "Once upon a time there was a ghost and his name was Charlie... he was alive and then he died and he came up as a ghost..." It gives way to a jangly and churning texture of noise as it fades to static and segues seamlessly into Recent Bedroom, a stark song heavy on the bass with an arpeggiated guitar line, over the top of a subtle and distorted wash of another guitar with an organ somewhere in the mix. Cox's vocals get the delay treatment, as they appear within the register at different intervals. Much like You Lies To Me by The Besnard Lakes or a poor man's My Bloody Valentine, Atlas Sound has the psych-shoegaze-dream-chamber pop thing down.
Repeating "you drown me" over and over, the point is well taken on the third track, River Card. Cox's lyrics and vocals on Quarantined have more of a desperation, as he pleads "I am waiting to be changed...", traversing his own ahhs and ohhs through the excellent outro jam; replete with bells and xylophones, which are featured on almost every song on the album. Ruth Underwood, we miss you...
Next up is On Guard, with barely-there lyrics so low in the mix and so heavily delayed it sounds as if it's almost a dub-plate vocal track. As he showed us on Cryptograms, Cox has a penchant for placing "passages" in between tracks, and On Guard acts more or less as a passage from Quarantined into Winter Vacation. There's such an otherworldly vibe on this track, making me think that the studio where the album was recorded is indeed spooked.
The album's center of attention is the transcendent Cold As Ice, placed where else but the exact center of the album. It has a distinct bubbliness to it and signals the album's turn towards more upbeat rhythms while still maintaining a surreal darkness. Another perfectly executed segue into Scraping Past, a moody and depressed song that again has the vocals down in the middle of the mix and the bass bouncing along at the top, giving it a gothic feel not unlike a Pornography-era Cure song.
I'm at a loss for words when trying to come up with more gloomy adjectives to describe their sound, so the next track entitled Small Horror does it for me. Imagine being in an abandoned church as the pipe organ is being played by shadowed hands in absolute darkness. Being presented by such an eerie proposition both has me frightened and enamored of their sound, as the organ drops out to reveal a lone voice as it transitions smoothly into another passage track, Ready Set Glow. Sounding like a helicopter in the distance, I love it when bands employ a roto-leslie speaker effect for this purpose.
Vampiric in name, Bite Marks is a soundtrack for the physically abused, as Cox related in a recent interview: (It's a) song about sadomasochism and boy prostitution. I kind of just took an experience I had, which I was making out with this guy and he bit me really, really hard on my shoulder, and I had bite marks that were there for like two weeks. Every time I got out of the shower, I saw them. I wrote it from the perspective of somebody who- I also remember when I was abused as a child, kids would put cigarettes out on me. This happened once on Christmas morning, and those kind of things kinda got put in there.
After Class is an inebriating sensory experience, incorporating so many different layers and textures of sound it gives the listener a profound impression of being disoriented. What better way to chill out by taking some Ativan, the next track on the album. Probably the most straightforward and accessible song on Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, it's Atlas Sound's ode to combatively medicating away anxiety and debilitating depression. Cox's own despondent nature makes his art really heavy and more serious, as witnessed here.
The eventual coup de grace is the album's title track, placed last for the most obvious reasons. One being that it has a calm, sunrise feel to it, calling in to question and to challenge the great lie that depression tells its sufferers in the nebulous and lonely hours in the middle of the night: you will always feel this way.*
Cox and Atlas Sound know differently, as being in touch with your creativity is one of the ways to triumph over despair. Those who can take their pain and transform themselves with their craft through brilliant imagination and hard work are the reason I'm so attracted to music in the first place, and this is an amazing album that should be played end to end without interruption.
* - No you won't, so don't listen to that self-defeating part of your brain. Life gets better. Because it's always the darkest right before the dawn...