Atlas Sound' s Parallax[Parallax was released by 4AD on 11.08.11 and is still on repeat at Talk Rock To Me].

Bradford Cox is somewhat of a musical astronaut, charting new realms of sound and continuing to surprise listeners with his findings. On Parallax — the carefully crafted and cleverly executed latest release from his solo project, Atlas Sound — Cox has finally allowed his otherworldly musical tendrils to plunge their way into the Earth — and the LP comprises some of his best work to date.

Previous Atlas Sound albums showcased a self-conscious (yet undeniably skilful) musician shrouded in radiant foreign noise, but on this third official release, the Deerhunter frontman displays a new found confidence. He has peeled away the layers, and the result is his most accessible solo LP yet. That is not to say that Cox has lost his unique sound, in fact, he has honed it. Cox’s favorite effects — bleeps, drips, trickles, feedback, echo vocals and static — are used intelligently on Parallax, amplifying each track and striking an ideal balance between organic and synthetic elements. Cox’s voice also takes center stage for the first time as threads of ambient sound intertwine his dreamy wistful vocals in seamless fashion.

Parallax’s cover art speaks volumes as to how much Cox has opened up on this album in comparison to past releases. Where past album art has obscured his face, Parallax starkly contrasts with a close up image of Cox clutching a vintage microphone; half of his face is still concealed by shadows, but the other half is now in plain view. Finally, the audience is rewarded with a peek at the man behind the music, and when listening to the peculiar and captivating crooner depicted on the cover, they will feel closer to him than ever.

Cox’s exceptional songwriting and editing abilities are testaments to his profound understanding of music—aptitudes, he knows, come with a price. On reverb-laden album opener The Shakes — a track about fame and fortune come much too late — Cox hints at his own weariness of musical success. The song takes a heartbreaking stance on the loneliness of excess; the narrator aches amidst his friendless splendor, soaked in Bourbon and regret, long dead, but obliged to wait for the final curtain to close. From one extreme to another, the catchiest tune on the album by far is the poppy re-recorded version of Mona Lisa (originally part of Cox’s expansive Bedroom Databank recordings). It is a track that is built for listeners to sing along to: upbeat, guitar driven and brimming with nostalgia.

Cox’s vocal strength is best demonstrated on the whimsical Te Amo, where looped bleeps, bloops, trickles and pops create a jewel-like backdrop to his expressive, swooping vocals. It is a refreshing treat to hear his voice displayed in this clean and powerful manner. When Cox does use vocal effects on Parallax, it is to his benefit. Subtle echoes augment his front-and-center vocals and crisp consonants on the dreamy Modern Aquatic Nightsongs as he sings, “…and hope the ground opens up and swallows you and your love.”

Parallax typically refers to the difference in perceived position of an object when viewed from separate lines of site. The definition is applied more generally here to the divided stances that people can take on the same subject. On the thought provoking title track, Cox describes the perspective of a lover crippled by resentment and blame, to whom he insightfully sings “your pain is probably equal.”

Cox calls Parallax a “science fiction” album. At first that seems like an odd statement, but upon careful inspection, the description fits. The album manages to effectively mix sonically pleasing pop and rock with cosmic ambience. There is more Cox on display here, and thus, more of his weirdness to enjoy. All in all, Atlas Sound’s newest release is an approachable, artsy rock-n-roll album — with some Lovecraft tossed in for good measure.

— By Amanda Gallagher, freelance writer and wearer of many (tiny) hats.

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