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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Atlas Sound, Parallax

atlas_sound_parallax.jpg
Plug in the word “parallax” at Dictionary.com and a handful of definitions appear:

1. the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.

2. astronomy. the apparent angular displacement of a celestial body due to its being observed from the surface instead of from the center of the earth …

3. the difference between the view of an object as seen through the picture-taking lens of a camera and the view as seen through a separate viewfinder.

4. an apparent change in the position of cross hairs as viewed through a telescope, when the focusing is imperfect.

Pick any one of them and there’s meaning hiding in the title of Atlas Sound’s third proper full-length, Parallax (4AD). Some of those meanings are more apparent than others, but they shift as each song unfolds. The true intent is Bradford Cox’s own private mystery, but the title takes on particular intrigue here, considering that Parallax is the first Atlas Sound record to boast Cox’s face. The image, shot by rock ‘n’ roll photo icon Mick Rock, is a deliberately color-skewed re-creation of any number of ’50s teen idol four-color album covers (Ricky Nelson, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, et al). In light of that, what is perhaps chief among the mixed signals here is that Parallax is also Cox’s most adult record to date. His voice is strong in the mix, and just beyond the understated swell of feedback and noise at the top of the album’s opening number, “The Shakes,” each song follows Cox’s evolved instincts by establishing a simple, pleasant guitar melody, and letting the music pinwheel from there.

Soon a formula reveals itself in the album’s subtle pieces — “Te Amo,” “Terra Incognita” and “Flagstaff.” By comparison to the bolder songs — “Amplifiers,” “Mona Lisa,” “Angel is Broken” and “Lightworks” — the prior function as connective tissue; working mechanical parts in a symbiotic whole that are just as vital in conveying the album’s essence. As such, there’s not really a standout single in the bunch. Rather, Parallax’s many cogs and gears contribute to a larger mechanism that demands an element of predictability. But that’s OK, predictability is part of what makes good pop songwriting work. Within minutes of dropping the needle on the record Parallax sounds familiar. It’s easy to consume and it’s effortlessly performed while drawing beauty from the mundane.

This, of course, brings about a dichotomy: Atlas Sound’s most accomplished album isn’t quite as memorable as anything Cox presented with his prior Atlas Sound records, Logos or Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel.

There’s also a subconscious connection between Parallax and Deerhunter’s masterpiece, Halcyon Digest. The relationship is most definitely intangible, but it’s ultimately the product of channeling anxieties into a palette of serene and seemingly non-intrusive textures. But it’s in fleshing out these moods and feelings that the album also finds depth. Nowhere is this more apparent than “Doldrums,” the abstract ghost that materializes just before Parallax moves into its final act, which serves as a reminder that there is indeed a fourth dimension at work here. It’s not the driving force, but the underscore to an album that comes together as a beautiful, if understated, sentiment.

Stream Parallax in its entirety at The New York Times Magazine website.

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