Monomania

Marcel Duchamp, the godfather of everything we understand as abstract and avant-garde, once said that art is either plagiarism or revolution. He also got hold of a porcelain piss pot, scrawled his name on it and set it in a gallery, thus giving birth to the concept of the ready-made and the power of artistic intention in raising the mundane to the status of the sublime.

“Avant-garde” is a phrase that Deerhunter brainchild Bradford Cox bandies around a lot in interviews, but on this fifth record his formalist intentions have gone a step further, treating a musical genre like a ready-made and making the quick and dirty sonic edges of ‘nocturnal garage’ his own proverbial graffiti laden urinal. Trying on its throttling pants for size, the twelve tracks navigate the machismo of neon junk yards, leather jackets and “nite bikes”, while an exaggerated southern snarl sings strutting delta blues about being “a poor boy from a poor family”.

There are songs on three chords and vocal posturing that makes ‘Monomania’ an oddly fascinating performance of the kind of rock music that doesn’t think twice. The stuff that’s stuck in the middle, the ‘Monomania’ that’s bonkers for those one dimensional ideas; everything is the same as it was / But now there’s nothing left to change,” Cox sings.

A recent US TV outing saw Cox transformed into an androgynous, snake-hipped, trash rocker; a mess of black hair, animal print and blooded mouth, spitting his way through the repetitive whiteout of the album’s title track. It’s convincingly awesome but also points to the fact that this whole pantomime might come over better in the visceral flesh than it does on record, at least a quarter of which (‘The Missing’; ‘Sleepwalking’) gives way to the kind of melodies and dreamy webs of driving sound that have hitherto made Deerhunter exquisite. Maybe the record would be better without these moments, these silvered cracks with something more familiar and listenable behind them. Maybe that would make it a more fully formed object – an unapologetic thrash heap monument to ‘La Vie Anterieure’to quote the description of Punk in the final track’s title.

‘Monomania’ is an ersatz concept album that needs its context of one record among many to make sense. Like Duchamp, the band seem hell bent on embodying contradictions in a bid to shake out of any habits that have become easy or safe; ideas, band members and identities constantly swirling in revolutions. This is a study of something gone before, a sonic relic so ingrained in the cultural fabric as to be rendered commonplace. Perhaps all that’s left is to stick it on a plinth and look at it another way.

Read all of our new album reviews here, in Loud And Quiet 48, out now


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