Monday, March 22, 2010

Album Review: Deerhunter: Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP

Rainwater Cassette Exchange (EP)
4AD / Kranky, 2009

Paul's rating: 8.0/10

Just so you're aware, if you buy Rainwater Cassette Exchange on vinyl, it's a 45-RPM disc. Normally I wouldn't feel the need to point this out, even though it's indicated nowhere on the labels or sleeve. But anyone who's listened to Cryptograms, Deerhunter's first album, might think the sound at 33 RPM is exactly what Deerhunter was going for. The sort of thing my dad calls "gas music from Jupiter." It took me a few minutes to figure it out. It's a 12-inch disc, so I started with the assumption it was a 33.

As it turns out, RCE is poppy and accessible, absent the long, droning, trippy instrumental tracks that comprised most of Cryptograms. Which is not to say it's exactly uplifting. Two weeks of misery / Capture my heart and destroy me / Destroy my mind and my body / Invade me like as disease and conquer me are the opening words, contrasting against the sunny, almost tropical jangle of of the guitars.

This seems to be the trend of Deerhunter's work - Introspective and scary as ever, but increasingly accessible. Well, relatively accessible - It's not like they're in any danger of cracking the Top 40.

What I like about EPs is their lack of commercial motives. They can offer insights into an artist's creative process, being such an opportunity for unfettered artistic freedom. This seems the case even in instances when the EP may be an outlet (or less euphemistically, dumping ground) for songs that didn't make the cut for the full-length, and there's some evidence that may be the case here, as the track "Famous Last Words" echoes the motifs of "Never Stops" from Microcastle/Weird Era Continued, the band's most recent (double) full-length, which is absolutely a better fit for that album. Nonetheless, it stands on its own, as do all five of RCE's songs. The fact that they share some of the previous work's devices for mood, hooks and atmosphere can lend a fan like myself a better understanding of just what makes Deerhunter, especially the prolific frontman Bradford Cox, tick. All the songs are rewarding, but "Disappearing Ink," the second track, is as good as any song Deerhunter has yet released, and it demands to be heard over and over. It has a hooky, driving beat, and it evokes the earliest work of another eponymous Georgia band, R.E.M..

Overall, Rainwater Cassette Exchange is an excellent listen. While the unassuming album artwork and the presence of detailed information about the songs are uncharacteristic of Deerhunter's presentation style, they offer some clues how the band creates atmosphere and 60's psychedelia (Swamp guitar! Theremins! Lap steel! Congas! Spring reverb!) The fact that it's not a very high-quality pressing and a somewhat lo-fi recording in the first place give it a gritty "underground" feel. And despite being only 5 short songs, RCE plays through with as cohesive an arc as any good album should.

If I have one complaint, it's that Kranky Records is not in the habit of offering download coupons with their vinyl releases (I paid good money for this, and I'm going to download it one way or another, so I can have it on my iPod), although Deerhunter is overall a fan-friendly band. Still, for the very reasonable price of $9.99, Rainwater Cassette Exchange is worth every penny and more. It has my recommendation.

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