Every drummer I saw at CMJ last year had one cymbal and a hi-hat. It's a reductionist set-up that has been being used by Deerhunter's Moses Archuleta since at least 2007. It's not minimal just for the sake of it because that hat sounds divine. In terms of drum production and sticking, the band is as influential as it gets for up and comers. I'll be talking about the way the cymbals sound on 'Back to the Middle' for years, as many still speak about Ringo's legendary recording on 'Come Together' today.

And that's the band Deerhunter will be. We'll be reminiscing about how great their shows were in 2010, 2011, and 2013. The live experience, particularly at this Bonnaroo (you can actually hear people howling with joy when the song breaks at 34 seconds), had me and mine all bug-eyed with bliss: "If I don't see another show that good all weekend, I'll still leave Tennessee happy."

And though seeing them live is something revelatory (getting to see Bradford Cox's antics, microphone-fellatio aside, is a treat in and of itself), the band's studio tricks are incomparable. On first look, the cover for side project Atlas Sound's Parallax looks goofy. But, Cox really does own the mic he's clutching. The vocals evoke Cox's past ghosts and future selves alike; whether they echo endlessly on tracks like 'Earthquake' or explicitly spell out the songwriting process on 'Sailing', I can feel the guy singing to me. The prose feels tangible, and is backed by a band that communicates like they've been playing together for decades.


'Octet' - Cryptograms (2007)

Cryptograms confused my 16-year old mind, and 'Octet' was always the island that kept luring me back in. The vocals are completely awash in hissing fog and, despite the lack of a direct message, I always felt soothed after the spacious confusion of songs like the album's title track. It was my little Deerhunter secret for years.

Then, when Halcyon Digest was nearing release, this interview/performance surfaced. Deerhunter gave 'Octet' a discernible vocal track as if the band were affirming my fan-hood personally, and it helped that Cox sounded so damn pleased to be talking with Riley. There were big things on the horizon. They also performed the track for their single-song encore at that same Bonnaroo while I was in attendance. There were few people in the crowd who were as floored as I was with 'Octet' at that moment, but that did not detract from everyone dancing the night away, a moment only the first night of a festival can usually deliver for a relatively unknown track.

'Hazel St' - Cryptograms (2007)

The intro bassline is so nuanced and groovy, I almost always forget about the jumpy guitar arpeggios that inevitably follow it. I like to think it was Archuleta who had the idea to intro the song this way since banging away on the open hi-hat and kick drum mirrors a religious experience. The forlorn lyric attempts to grasp at what Cox's childhood means to him, but only gets swallowed by tape hiss and delay: "I wasss sixxxxteeeennn/I livveddd onnn Hazel Streeeetttttt."

'Heatherwood' - Cryptograms (2007)

Although you can actually hear them trying out ideas on this track (Cox sputters "good idea!" off-mic right at the intro), the song remains one of the more inspired efforts on Cryptograms. The verse breaks away to reveal a melody-less section where Cox attempts to piece together his message via dry vocalizations. Finally, he admits that "one life is over/a new one begins," and the drums dip out for a second while I take in the emotional effects of the song at large.

'Wash Off' - Fluorescent Grey EP (2007)

Cryptograms is mostly subdued in its dedication to a friend of Cox's who had died in 2005, and the Fluorescent Grey EP didn't offer much solace - except on closer 'Wash Off'. If Deerhunter ever live up to their tag as ambient punks, this will be the song proving it. A companion piece to 'Hazel St', the track doesn't really deliver optimism so much as visceral release from the bands serious topics. As they opened sets with it on the Halcyon Digest tour, crowds were reminded that Deerhunter are rooted in punk rock, and that they know how to enjoyably create energizing noise pop better than the majority of their indie counterparts.

'VHS Dream' - Weird Era Cont. (2008)

It's short and feels almost incomplete with its scattered and few lyrics, but the percussive acoustic guitar that outros the track manages to bring the piece together. Cox sounds desperate on the vocal, but there's too much pummeling away for him to take a breather: Eighth-note drum patterns, waves of feedback melodies, and Josh Fauver's just-shy-of-punishing bass guitar dirge. Apparently Cox misses his friends, and lines like "and they never come back" are lost in the ether.

'Never Stops' - Microcastle (2008)

In the chorus line "But my escape would never come," Cox hits the resolving note on the final word for less than a second. It's followed by some "oh-ohs" that traipse around the higher end of his range, dodging anything that feels grounded or relieving. There's only a brief mention of escape before the ride cymbal and guitar shoot the track into the better parts of space. The path clears for a bit to let a clicking rhythm guide the vocal through some difficult realities, but the section is similarly phased out with snare crashes, ambient noise, and a wailing Bradford Cox. All of this is accomplished in three minutes flat. 'Never Stops' is my favorite Deerhunter song.

'Don't Cry' - Halcyon Digest (2010)

There's distorted acoustic guitar here that's only rivaled by Neutral Milk Hotel. Also, each word delivered has crispy edges with consonants that punch, making what's normally an overdone studio effect become something gritty and direct. Deerhunter are one of the few bands that can make something hit hard in the headphones while trying so desperately (and succeeding) to comfort a crying child. Whether or not this child is Cox or not remains a mystery that furthers the songs resonance.

'Don't Cry' is more than a studio gem. It made several appearances out on Halcyon's tour, where every single show was trumped by the one that came after. By the time the band had made their way to Pitchfork Festival in July of 2011, the set was perfected. My then roommates and I were transfixed by the live stream as we watched 'Don't Cry' go from a transitional, cute pop tune into something that was blown out, fuzzy and ultimately one of the purest moments of rock and roll I've witnessed.

'Desire Lines' - Halcyon Digest (2010)

I charted this song out for a class project when I was a junior in college. After figuring out what makes the outro so rhythmically sticky, I felt the need to share what I'd uncovered: three five measure phrases that play four times apiece, and a fourth one that takes the song out over a minute and a half. With 20 being the magic number of measures for each of these winding arpeggios, it's easy to see how the track sounds so hypnotic and chilling. Deducing this didn't take away from the mystery of affectation, either. I'm astonished at the inventiveness even five years after the fact. I want to steal the band's patterns and claim them for my own. Furthermore, the meat of the song is similarly excellent. Pundt's lyrics are simple and dizzying, ending in one of the band's most excellent uses of psychedelic imagery in sound and pattern.

'Helicopter'/'He Would Have Laughed' - Halcyon Digest (2010)

Though non-sequential, these two songs were married by their live set and became something of an ambient odyssey dealing in religion, drugs, age, loneliness, death, and, in the (very) end, one of Deerhunter's few moments of real contentment. "Take my hand and pray with me" is later met with the tough admittance that "I have minimal needs/but now they are through with me." When the music video for 'Helicopter' first dropped, it was the only taste of the new record we had. It depicts Bradford, staring directly into the camera while spilling his guts. This was not the confounding genius of previous Deerhunter work. This was something more human.

When listening to 'He Would Have Laughed' right after, a full story about the profundity of mortality is unearthed as Cox reaches out to his deceased friend Jay Reatard. The title of the track gives away the ending: a lot of the trivial moments in life and rock stardom are pretty funny. If Cox could hear the cackle of his friend in his deep search for solace, he could be at peace in the darkness 'Helicopter' may have cast. 'Laughed' is an ideal ending to a record. It's a calm, detailed and lengthy piece that hints at absurdity without betraying any honesty or musical depth. "Where did my friends go?" is asked near the end. Apparently they're still living among us.

'The Missing' - Monomania (2013)

I slotted Monomania at #2 on my year end list for 2013. When I asked a friend about its absence from his own, he complained about how he wished there were more Lockett Pundt action in the songwriting. Despite the near perfection of Deerhunter's most raucous, blood-pumping record, I couldn't argue with the guy. Pundt's voice is the ideal antithesis to Cox's, remaining cool and casual (as is evidenced by his excellent Lotus Plaza records): "Open up my thoughts/tell me if you see some meaning," Pundt croons right off the bat. He opens the door for our own interpretation, a respite from the preceding 'Leather Jacket II''s take on Cox's overblown and maximalist rockism.

'Pensacola' - Monomania (2013)

The lead guitar line is so rich and in your face, it's strange I'm not turned off by it. The song is about escape: "I've been waiting so long to say bye bye bye/This town ain't give me nothing but bald head and trouble." Cox absolves the harsh tones and lets himself be jolly with the lyrics as he awkwardly and ingeniously repeats "I came from the Delta down to the plains." Sometimes, when you're in a good mood, you don't need to worry about what to say next. The message is clear.

'Back to the Middle' - Monomania (2013)

This is Deerhunter's best arrangement (followed closely by 'Coronado'). But, the real propulsion comes from the timbre of the cymbals. Archuleta single-handedly guides the track between the punch of the verses and the cool, floating ride sound that you can almost see flying by overhead on the concise chorus lines. Indeed, the compactness of this song makes it a great introductory listen. It's jam packed into two and a half minutes, but contains a full structure that could have lasted Monomania's length. That they didn't try to drill the great ideas into the head of listeners is a testament to the band's ingenuity and organization of ideas.