Album Review: Atlas Sound - Parallax

Atlas Sound rewards us with a harrowing sonic adventure that retains all the expected stark undertones with a greater penchant for incredibly lucid stream-of-consciousness.

B+ | 11.08.11 | 4AD | Stream | MP3 | CD | Vinyl

Atlas Sound - "My Angel Is Broken"

Parallax is a displacement in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight. Bradford Cox’s third album as Atlas Sound (a musical moniker he’s used since he was ten) is all about this type of cosmic perspective. If you follow just one of the acoustic boundaries laid before you, there’s no telling how far it will take you down the rabbit hole. Any wave of modulated sound will either go on for eternity or come to a digital halt. These are some rather risky games to play with the listener on what is essentially a contemporary pop album. Fortunately we’re rewarded with a harrowing sonic adventure that retains all the expected stark undertones with a greater penchant for incredibly lucid stream-of-consciousness.

If we hopped in a time machine and set the flux capacitor for 1992, there’s a very good chance this album would be packaged and sold as a dual-disc compilation. Half of the album consists of major key acoustic ballads, delicately laced with that spooky cool veneer. At the other end of the spectrum are more plaintive but equally impressive minor key tracks that push the envelope in more subtle fashion.

A good opener for the imaginary first disc (titled Viewpoint Alpha of course) would be “The Shakes”, a playful off-key mid-tempo brooder that borders on that thin line between malaise and sudden realization, fades back into obscurity, until it boils to a frenzied coda. “Te Amo” is another teeming Petri dish of cascading arpeggio employing high fidelity piano tracks, firing synthesized synapses and Cox’s best Thom Yorke impersonation. The Jayhawks or Spoon would be bobbing their respective heads to “Mona Lisa” which is by far the most fleshed out traditionally structured acoustic pop song Cox has released as his alter ego.

Might be best to release “My Angel is Broken” as a 7” single — it’s worthy of such autonomy. First we are given the guiding light in the form of a descending three-chord progression that’s catchy as all get out. The melody changes at various points, as do Cox’s pipes, which float between a cheery Leonard Cohen and a down-and-out Tom Petty. Come to think of it, if not for the back channel recording of his vocal track I’d totally believe someone if they told me it was a lost B-side off Wildflowers.

As far as Disc 2 (ostensibly referred to from now on as Bravo Viewpoint) then we’d definitely need to start with the epic “Terra Incognita”. When you hear that hollow two-chord oscillation, immediate recall of a Seals and Crofts groove sets in; elevated by Cox’s now goose-down croons of “Celestial crops/Carry me home/These ancient technologies/Strengthen my bones.” Right after that is the fascinating “Flagstaff” which features an eerie split vocal that leads to a “great white epileptic” chorus that incorporates a sudden burst of energy that might as well be an aural seizure. And please don’t track forward once you realize the last half of the song is just syncopated tape loops — they are much more than meets the ear.

No matter what angle you view the constellations mapped out for us on this sweeping opus, you will feel insignificant in a strangely liberated way.

Stream 'Parallax' in full here.
B+ | 11.08.11 | 4AD | Stream | MP3 | CD | Vinyl