It was only a few years ago that the Great Bowery Ballroom Monologue was the province of Bradford Cox, after that time in July 2007 when he launched into a twenty minute solo conversation with a lingering audience after Deerhunter's encore at the venue. (This was soon after the more infamous Silent Barn blowjob incident, for those keeping track.) Back on that fateful night, people who stuck around were treated to solo Cox doing B-52's karaoke, group Germs sing-alongs, a dressing down of drummer Moses Archuleta's “polite” attempts to shut Cox up, by Cox (“I asked you to learn more songs”), the odd concept of Todd P at a Bowery show, and Cox's self-description of himself as a giant “vag” which the audience should “fist” (because he is so kind, and nice, and this is what he'd like to be remembered for). Now that 2010, a.k.a. the full-on Year of Kanye, the Bowery Monologue As Art Form has taken a much more coherent tone. Where Cox was a simmering bag of contradiction, Kanye's an upstanding citizen speaking candidly to his minions about issues of national importance: Fuck Bush, fuck what I said about Bush, and also fuck Taylor Swift!. “I am very particular with my words!” Etc. The hipster media elite's whipped, 4am be damned.
One single cock:
Which brings us to the Atlas Sound mountain of demo tapes, bedroom recordings, and outer experiments Bradford Cox released to the world this week: while Kanye, a supremely controlled, polished, commercial standard gets the throne once reserved for scrappier, less coherent outsiders, one of the old kings (queens) of the realm drops 47 tracks in three days, all recorded in the past six months, the vast majority recorded in the past three (with lyric sheets!). Obviously GOOD Friday and Atlas Sound Bedroom Databank Vol. 1-3 could only communicate if one of them survived a journey through a black hole to the alternate universe where the other resides, but it's about the audience, stupid.
Who's listened to all these tracks? We have, for one.
47 tracks, roughly cut, presumably most (all) of them done in one to five takes, egg shakers making up an impressive proportion of the rhythm tracks, acoustic and undistorted electric guitar filling out nearly every track. If there's any dichotomy in the releases, it's a rough line drawn down the middle between what could function as Deerhunter demos and the wobblier, weirder diversions that recall the dreamy synth-reverent pop of past Atlas Sound releases. There is also harmonica in here.
Bedroom Databank Vol. 1. The Atlas moment comes out best in the underwater response track to all that has been dubbed tropical in 2010, called “Afternoon Drive“, as well as in the vocal-dampened, synth-arpeggiated “Wild Love“. Best cut on the whole three-record collection probably remains his cover of Kurt Vile's “Freak Train“, track seven in this first section. His other cover, Bob Dylan's “This Wheel's on Fire” is one of the few passages that doesn't fit comfortably within the easy divide between his band's sound and his bedroom trips. (Though, no wonder.)
Bedroom Databank Vol. 2. Some of the most glorious guitar delay experiments on this volume, (“Heatwave“), and a caveat: this mass dump of Cox has its share of one-off wonkery. If you're looking to skip the acoustic guitar solos, may we warn you about “Change of Good”. Stick to the Deerhunter primer “Day Out” or the standout Atlas Sound introversion “Helio Intro“. Best straight-to-Deerhunter cut also jumps out of Vol. 2 in “Here Comes The Trains“.
Bedroom Databank Vol. 3. This one veers wildly between rock demos and late night guitar loops. “Mona Lisa” is the ready for prime-time single. Otherwise #3 is largely an instrumental endeavor, to the point where some of these tracks (“Indian Bitrate“) are Cox playing rhythm guitar to an imaginery Other band that's probably shooting fireworks off in his head. Check out “Epilogue” for the most Oneohtrix'd outer-realm drone excursion. There is also a drum practice track on Vol. 3 (“Drums + Pissing”).
All three of these “volumes” are good enough to blow most of the bedroom pop that drops daily out of the bath tub; Cox is a songwriting savant with a good sense of how to play on noise and texture with supple, melodic delay and looping. But count him more immediately a descendent to the songwriter's tradition that might include Michael Hurley, Todd Rundgren, his own self-avowed favorite Bobby Conn. Which is a good reason to stop name dropping a rap artist in this post, if it weren't for the odd timing of West's recent ascendancy within a group that traditionally champions rock outsiders against mainstream artists.
On that note, it's great that Cox chose to drop so much music at once. Tracks will inevitably be lost in this deluge, whether Kanye's sapped Bradford's old fan base's attention or not; it will take a long time to slowly unpack all of the idiosyncracies of this work. Presumably some of it will show up in polished LP format. Much will remain a “Bedroom Database session.” Which is nice.
There's something more special about a massive Thanksgiving offering than a floating single dropped carefully now and then (or even every Friday) — there is simply too much “content” here to analyze quickly, which is both anathema to being an efficient blogger and counter to every consistent trend in “gaming” a critical music system that for better (not worse), sees less and less jockeying from the likes of Bradford Cox and, apparently, much more free, inspired music.