Remember that part in Pulp Fiction when Harvey Keitel warns Sam Jackson and John Travolta, “Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet” (after they had successfully cleaned out the brain-splattered car)? It's advice that would best be heeded whenever someone has the temptation to label any rock band “the next big thing.”
More often, we the press are the most guilty of this, but one of the main reasons it's a bad idea is that it's often declared at the precarious beginning of a band's career. It's impossible to know if one good record can guarantee another, and it puts undue pressure on the band. There's just no telling when things like drug addiction, finding Jesus, jealousy, egos or a “new” direction can come along and fuck everything up.
Atlanta's Deerhunter, crowned “TNBT” for some time now, have successfully avoided most of the pitfalls. But they also haven't gotten the skinny-jeans of that title to fit yet, either.
Their first release, 2005's Turn it Up, Faggot, was full of unapologetic art-rock jangling, à la early Sonic Youth. The record is a cacophony of guitars and noise with nearly indecipherable lyrics, and while it wasn't exactly an instant classic, it still gives people something to buzz about today.
But there was plenty more than music to buzz about.
There were infamous live shows and constant lineup changes. Faggot's cover art features a mirror image of Jared Swilley, bassist and vocalist for Atlanta counterparts Black Lips, adorned with a deer's head and sporting his porn-sized junk at half-mast. There's the story that the songs on Faggot are a result of dealing with the 2004 skateboarding head-injury death of original bassist Justin Bosworth.
And then there's Bradford Cox—founder, multi-instrumentalist and singer—with his confrontational live performances, unconventional onstage dress, refusal to do interviews (wink) and unusually tall and thin frame due to Marfan syndrome (from which Joey Ramone also suffered). All of this combined is like a car wreck on the side of the highway. Once you know it exists, it's hard to not look. Thus, the buzz began.
But a single decent record and a collection of good water-cooler talk does not a master make.
When 2007's Cryptograms was released a few years later, it was time to reevaluate. It's essentially everything that Faggot wasn't, including its fundamental inaccessibility. Many of the sonic deluges of the debut were replaced with psychedelic atmospherics and shoegazer fuzz. Music writers fell over each other to verbally masturbate its promise, while many die-hards were critical of the softened sound.
It was time again to wait. What next?
Released nearly a month ago, Microcastle (and a full-length bonus disc, Weird Era Cont.) is presumably an answer to the initial questions: Are they truly indie geniuses? Will it be long before we hear their latest single on an iPod or light-beer ad.
Sadly, we'll be waiting a little longer.
While Microcastle has some nice moments, like the ready-for-radio “Never Stops” and the I-swear-to-God-I-thought-it-was-Death-Cab-For-Cutie “Nothing Ever Happened,” it also has some people wondering where the hell the band that made the first two records went. Admirable as it seems, it's as if they went out of their way to make an album that doesn't sound like what Deerhunter is supposed to sound like.
There's no doubting their talent and growth, but until they can figure out a way to balance the fuck-you chaos of their first record with the varying kinds of atmospheric pop from their last two, while at the same time not sacrificing much of either, they're just another overrated indie band who made one hell of a first impression.
But I hope they try again and heed the words of Pulp Fiction's Keitel when he says, “Fine job, gentlemen. We may get out of this yet.”
Deerhunter play with Times New Viking and Nite Jewel on Friday, Nov. 28, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/deerhunter.