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There’s a big difference between Deerhunter’s urbane brand of indie rock and the behavior of the band itself. The Atlanta quartet’s public persona, as documented in numerous news items and interviews in Pitchfork, is a messy combination of high-drama catastrophes, intraband squabbling, and blog posts of questionable taste and legality. That chaos is hardly in keeping with Deerhunter’s latest, the gently performed and concisely arranged Microcastle. “Comfort me/Comfort me,” sings guitarist Lockett Pundt at the beginning of “Agoraphobia,” a pleasant, even wallpaperish, tune that blends ’80s new wave and ’90s shoegaze influences. Were this the work of a less bloggable band, the song would seem far from noteworthy. But, given Deerhunter’s notoriety, “Agoraphobia”’s very innocuousness makes it fascinating. Perhaps comfort is what you need most after a year’s worth of overexposure; Cryptograms, the 2007 album that lead to Deerhunter’s popularity, is a darker, more guitar-centric affair. The sound of that recording might have something to do with guitarist Colin Mee, who left the band in the summer of 2007, complaining of tour fatigue and too much press. Deerhunter chose not to replace him, and his absence is felt in the softness of Microcastle’s sound. Only one of the 12 tracks on this 41-minute record is as unruly as the band’s reputation—and that song, the album-closing waltz “Twilight at Carbon Lake,” is dominated by a jangling riff that brings to mind the Association and other easy-listening acts of the ’60s. More indicative of the character of Microcastle is the near-ambient suite that occupies the middle of the album. Though indexed separately, its three tracks—“Calvary Scars,” “Green Jacket,” and “Activa”—are all but indistinguishable from (and segue into) one another. Percussion, where it appears, is more decorative than propulsive. And Bradford Cox’s vocals, which hover above dreamy guitarscapes, are delivered in a near-whisper that belies the intensity of the lyrics. “Crucified/On a cross/In front of all/My closest friends,” Cox sings on “Calvary Scars.” If the Deerhunter frontman is trying to equate himself with Christ, he’s certainly not willing to sell it in such a way that would garner much notice; Cox sounds more tired and resigned to his fate than upset or agonized by it. It’s not the voice of a man about to inherit a Jesus-sized (or even Arcade Fire–sized) kingdom, which may explain the title Microcastle. The record might not deserve the kind of intense interest that followed Cryptograms. But judging by this modest and melodic recording, the band seems quite comfortable with the idea of a micro-, rather than macro-, profile.
Deerhunter performs Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Black Cat.