It seems somewhat fitting that the website for Atlas Sound’s latest album Parallax classifies it as science fiction. For the first time, he has created a cohesive album with an underlying theme, whether it was intentional or not. Bradford Cox (the man behind Atlas Sound) has mostly utilized a stream of consciousness approach to his lyricism which sometimes keeps his albums from staying in one place. The quality of his recordings didn’t help either; switching from a clear-sounding track to a muddy lo-fi one also took away from the album’s identity as a whole. That’s not to say that the records weren’t any good; on the contrary, both entries in the Atlas Sound catalog, 2008’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel and 2009’s Logos, were fantastic albums that gave more credit to Cox’s songwriting ability. But the question still remained: what exactly is Atlas Sound? Luckily the answer is finally here with Cox’s brand new album, Parallax.
Sounding like a eulogy of sorts, album opener “The Shakes” has Cox recounting his life in a cynical manner. Lines such as “Found money and fames/But I found them really late” and “I made lots of friends/I made lots and lots of friends” show his dissatisfaction with this material world of ours, and subtly express his desire to part with it. Makes sense considering the rest of the record sounds like it was recorded in outer space.
Walking some sort of line between atmospheric and claustrophobic, “Amplifiers” shows Cox’s ability to paint a mental picture. The dense guitar chords clash with the ambient background noises, mimicking the sensation of being trapped in an open area, almost like being in a tiny cubicle floating in space.
Parallax puts Cox in the unlikely position of appearing like the ideal singer/songwriter. In “Te Amo” he recites his abstract lyricism (“Te amo/Pretend you know a way out”) as the melodically perfect piano line plays in the background, as if he has cracked the code to perfect songwriting.
There is nothing wrong with a short simple song, as long as it’s done right. It means you have the genius and talent to get your point across in a short span of time. That’s exactly what Cox does in songs like “Parallax” and “Mona Lisa.” The former, which happens to be the album’s first single, presents a tortured and troubled frontman who croons “Your pain is probably equal.” The latter is the opposite of “Parallax,” upbeat and full, almost twee. The brisk percussion and the catchy chorus make it a lovable change of pace.
The bleakness of emptiness is also present throughout the record. The lovesick “Modern Aquatic Nightsongs” contains subtle keys and chimes which accompany Cox’s lines of love (“Is your love worth/The nausea it could bring”). Dark, lonely, and opaque, “Doldrums” is fitting for the atmosphere of space, as it creeps slowly and solemnly.
It seems somewhat strange that the song most tethered to Earth is also the longest. As I previously mentioned in my single review for it, “Terra Incognita” is a perfect representation of the genius that Cox possesses. While it’s beautiful on its own, it’s even remarkably more so when put into the context of the rest of Parallax. Like a self-realization piece, “Terra Incognita” is the sound of Cox coming to terms with himself and his fate.
To summarize, Parallax sounds like the lovesick space transmissions of a heartbroken Bradford Cox. It is the sound of a project regularly associated with Cox’s main project (Deerhunter) coming into its own. Maybe it’s a testament to the bizarreness of Cox’s life, or to his honesty, but this work of science fiction from Atlas Sound is teeming with truth.