Bradford Cox's oversized persona threatens to overwhelm almost anything his band does. In concert, the singer-songwriter—who has Marfan syndrome and is shockingly thin—sometimes bloodies himself and otherwise makes people uncomfortable. On his group's blog, he battles music pirates and his own demons. But fans are wise to ignore the hype; almost two years after the masterful Cryptograms, Microcastle is equally stunning, despite sounding almost completely different.
Largely eschewing effect pedals and moving away from the endless dreamy soundscapes that informed Deerhunter's earlier work, Microcastle features cleaner guitars, piano interludes and a poppier disposition. The tightly coiled title track lurks quietly for two-and-a-half minutes before the drums kick in and it turns into an anthemic banger featuring slightly distorted vocals. "Nothing Ever Happened" is six minutes of driving fuzz-pop, while "Never Stops" masks its dark message ("My escape would never come") in an upbeat, Yo La Tengo–influenced melody.
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Microcastle has a few moments of downbeat ambience, but for the most part the songs are focused, accessible and full of hooks. Though the musical makeover may risk alienating core fans who preferred the band's sonic experimentation, this less obtuse version of Deerhunter is much easier for listeners to wrap their heads around.