Spooky Action at a Distance
If you’ve seen Deerhunter live, maybe you looked for ten seconds at its unassuming guitarist Lockett Pundt. Maybe you looked at him for two or three minutes if you saw them play “Desire Lines,” the Halcyon Digest centerpiece (and highlight) he wrote and sings. If you were lucky enough to see them play “Fountain Stairs,” the other Halcyon Digest highlight Pundt wrote and sings, you probably looked at him for a grand total of something approximating seven minutes, which was probably more than enough for Lockett himself, because every piece of journalistic material about him you can track down testifies to the fact that he is really, really shy.
The Floodlight Collective, Pundt’s first record under his appropriately initialed solo moniker Lotus Plaza, which he only put out after a hefty amount of encouragement from friends in 2009, is a similar testament, as it can only be described as reverb-drenched – you try making out a syllable he sings, anywhere, his interwoven guitar lines are similarly distorted, all his smart melodies masked by layers of scuzz. The Floodlight Collective is also a truly beautiful record: all that reverb serves not only to cover up everything Pundt might be self-conscious about but also effortlessly creates a sense of fuzzed-out, blurry, hallucinatory nostalgia – a sense countless other artists try to get at but just can’t access on such an honest-seeming level. Pundt’s songs for Deerhunter are often simpler and cleaner, but also take the form of sun-blind memory trips (“Agoraphobia,” “Dot Gain,” “Like New”) or spiral out over epic lengths into hypnotic, mesmerizing loops (“Desire Lines,” “Neither of Us Uncertainly,” “Strange Lights”). The proof’s everywhere – Pundt’s always been a terrific songwriter, with a knack for absolutely nailing the kind of complex and layered but still immediate and accessible melodies most of his contemporaries don’t touch because they don’t know how to amalgamate those two criteria. Pundt writes pop songs with six guitar tracks that are still pop songs – that’s what makes his music so interesting.
Every song is a highly considered, self-contained world.
That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that Pundt made a record as good as Spooky Action at a Distance, his second release as Lotus Plaza. It is a revelatory record in the most literal sense of the word, in that it makes clear things that had not been clear: Pundt’s voice, instantly, obviously, but also the endlessly fascinating shifting complexity of his music, which is what ends up making Spooky Action so wonderful and so relistenable. Between opening and closing ambient bookends are eight of what Pundt does best, strange but immediate guitar pop songs, of which repeat listens rewardingly reveal something different to focus on each time. Every second is so layered and full that the sparse moments Pundt engineers (namely in “Dusty Rhodes” and the forlorn and gorgeous night-driving closer “Black Buzz”) take on a kind of austere gravity that feels like stopping your car in the middle of the desert.
Every song is a highly considered, self-contained world: “White Galactic One” explodes out of the gate into a brilliant layered riff sharper and brighter than anything Pundt’s done before, then spirals out into a coda that sounds like an infinite blue sky. A driving, motorik rhythm runs through “Jet Out of the Tundra;” toward the latter half when his vocals cut out Pundt ups those hypnotic loops (like those that close “Desire Lines”) to eleven with a mesmerizing piano line, fractured, sparkling electronics, and wailing guitar chords. “Strangers,” all waterfalling arpeggios, is especially remarkable when it slowly winds itself downtempo into nothingness. And then there’s “Monoliths,” a summer jam to end all summer jams built around a rippling, chimey loop, a song that sounds like a wheeling sky and the windows down and sea breeze, a song that culminates in a truly massive pop chorus.
It’s a mark of Spooky Action’s excellence that so much other zeitgeisty indie guitar pop feels incredibly one-dimensional and thin when held up against it. This is a record that manages to balance incredible layers of complexity with smart pop sensibility and come out sounding lush and instant, truly brilliant in both senses of the word.
Listen to 'Spooky Action at a Distance' in its entirety here.