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Music Reviews

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Atlas Sound
Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

April 8, 2008
Putting to use whatever sounds he could find to mesmerize us with (tambourines, synth beats, guitars, vocals, et cetera), Bradford Cox set about creating a moody bedroom album easily distinguished from his other recorded work. Like most self-recorded solo projects this album draws on a range of equipment, but it isn't the plurality of instruments overtaking Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel that most stirs the senses. It is the masterful sounds Cox emits with them that prove to be most intriguing. Coming after two previous EP's - Bradford Cox as Atlas Sound (2006) and Fractal Trax (2007) - which both found him splitting time with other artists, this collection of smooth beats and lucid structures is the first full-length album for Cox, who is also heavily involved with his band Deerhunter, which released the highly touted album Cryptograms last year.

Landing somewhat afield of the druggy detachedness of Cryptograms, here Cox sounds more joyful and optimistic. Commencing with early gems such as "Recent Bedroom" and "River Card," the beats on Let The Blind Lead are fresh and jubilant. Those two tracks follow album opener "A Ghost Story," and serve to solidify the tone for a vibrant, complex, and entertaining journey into the world of Atlas Sound. Having settled in to his side project, Cox takes full advantage of the freedom to explore his own unique sound.

The one aspect of Let The Blind Lead that does resonate within the parameters of Deerhunter is Cox's recognition and accommodation of the need for people to slip in and out of attention throughout the day. But rather than soundtracking stoners nodding off in a dark corner, Atlas Sound is more cued in to the flights of daydreaming office workers. Occasionally forgetting its immediate surroundings, the album veers off and explores unconscious thoughts on a more surreal level. Like a secretary able to construct complicated figures from a simple paper clip, Cox appears to see the world differently than most, and with Atlas Sound he proves deft at seizing upon something relatively innocuous and transforming it into something momentous. But as albums constructed in the bedroom laptop format are prone to do, at times Let The Blind Lead gets bogged down in its own discoveries and songs feel reluctant to make a jump for perfection.

If there is a single thing about Let The Blind Lead that stands out, it is its overall composition, which eschews rigid structure but possesses a particular elastic cohesion. Made up of tracks that are perfectly molded into fascinating, symphonic anthems that resonate uniformly regardless of placement yet adhere to the collection as a whole, the album fits neatly together however you order the songs. Listening to pieces in a shuffled sequence doesn't disrupt the consistency of Let The Blind Lead, and in fact out of order play gives the work an added weight. While individual cuts find a way to mark themselves distinctly, the general mood of the album doesn't change drastically from track to track, and their randomization is as delightful as the original sequence.

Rather than supplying deep, introspective lyrics with a resolve to re-cast actions or surroundings, in his vocal delivery Cox relies on themes for most songs, using them as guides to steer the listener along his chosen path. Sometimes only a series of words are repeated throughout a track ("Cold as Ice, Quarantined," et cetera), but being unobtrusive does not equate to being superficial and the lyrics do penetrate on a significant level. Similar to Panda Bear of Animal Collective, Cox's vocals are used more as melodic hymns that tend to enchant the brain's subconscious than as obvious statements, which could explain their staying power. Inevitably the songs resurface later, being hummed while taking a shower, riding a bike, staring listlessly at a computer screen, or making origami swans from purchase orders and balance sheets.

Although it does have a number of cloudy and intimate moments, it should be clearly noted that Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is not as haunting as Cryptograms. In fact, in comparison to Deerhunter, Atlas Sound could be classified as downright cheerful and quite pleasing to the ear. But while the record pleases on most all levels, the flavor of sound at times feels somewhat generic and a bit too lethargic, which keeps the disc from being great. If Bradford Cox continues to orchestrate innovative music and perfect his unique sound, he's likely to produce something quite monumental down the road, as it seems he's just missed excellence with this album.

Reviewed by Brian Christopher Jones
A student living in Scotland and working toward a PhD in law.

See other reviews by Brian Christopher Jones



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