Atlas Sound is the solo project of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox. When Cox emerged on an empty stage at Bimbo’s on Saturday – one microphone, a few guitars, pedals and that’s it – it became clear that Atlas Sound would be a solo act as well, in the strictest sense of the term.
There should have been nothing bewildering about this. Atlas Sound is an intensely personal project for Cox; it is the name under which he has filed his non-group work since childhood. The striking cover of Atlas Sounds’ acclaimed November LP, Parallax, features a lone chiaroscuro Cox, clutching an old-fashioned microphone. The album quite clearly announces its being the work of a single man.
But it is hard to believe, listening to it. Parallax is not one man, his acoustic and his harmonica-type fare. The songs are layered, robust pop, drawing from a complex and multifaceted sonic palette – seemingly more than one man could possibly produce on a live stage.
Alas, this is precisely what Cox proceeded to do. Looping his vocals and guitar riffs, adding and subtracting percussion parts and ambient droning as necessary, the Atlanta native produced thick, enveloping textures with just his own mouthy vocals, prodigious picking and a whole lot of fancy footwork. Sometimes, as with his marvelously multilayered rendition of “Te Amo,” it was unclear exactly where the sounds where coming from.
As is necessarily the case with this kind of style, songs must be re-worked to incorporate the construction process. Usually, this means amassing parts during an expanded intro, to be added and subtracted later in the song. The songs’ swells and breaks become more dramatic than they are in recorded form, often bottoming out in a murk of sparkling, droning noise – the rhythmless leftovers, so to speak, of the building process.
While it is interesting and all too rare to see a band reconfigure its work for the live stage rather than simply attempt to replicate it, the result has its pros and cons. Limited primarily to an acoustic guitar, the songs take on new warmth and richness that the 5-piece Deerhunter project would never abide. However, they also forfeit a certain degree of crispness when produced with the looping-and-layering process. At times they were unappealingly sloshy, and the setup felt like making-do.
We also missed out on the pleasure of watching a band function as a unit. To be sure, there is a strong romance in one man, bathed in smoke and green light, crooning his deepest thoughts into a mic and swallowing a captivated audience in his sound. But the captivation was vague – nothing like the riveting compulsion of a Deerhunter performance. Atlas Sound is perhaps better listened to in the manner of its making: solo.