Found money and fame,
but I found them really late.
So in my mansion I’d sit,
Waiting for it all to end.
-Atlas Sound, “The Shakes”
My first encounter with Bradford Cox was in 2007, when his band Deerhunter played a small venue called AS220 in Providence, R.I. The Atlanta band was touring in support of their sophomore album, Cryptograms—a nasty psych-rock situation that concealed its pop-core beneath layers of dirty effects and gut-curdling vibes.
Bradford crawled onto the stage on his hands and knees wearing a dress. Between songs, he taunted the audience, repeatedly mocking us for attending the show because indie tastemakers Pitchfork had recently given Cryptograms an 8.9 rating with a “Best New Music” tag. He implied we were only there because the culture-overlord had told us it was the “cool” place to be. It got ugly.
The band only finished about one minute of each song before Bradford interrupted to terrorize Brown University students for being Ivy Leaguers and Rhode Island School of Design students for being art school kids. When he wasn’t berating the audience, he creepy-crawled around his bandmates, hid behind amplifiers and poked his head out to glare like a psychotic snapping turtle. Booing and cursing ensued, and Deerhunter’s set was quickly cut off by the soundman when Bradford lit a cigarette on stage. Everyone seemed upset (and confused), but I loved it. When I chatted with Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt in the bathroom afterward, he apologized for what Bradford had done. I shook his hand and said, “Never apologize.”
Though he’s never apologized, Cox has changed a lot since those early days. There’ve been no reports of similar Jim Morrison-esque antics, and musically—with Deerhunter and his Atlas Sound solo project—he’s allowed free reign to his pop impulses. Released last month, Parallax , his third Atlas Sound LP, is a gorgeous display of kaleidoscopic instrumentation, angelic melodies and raw emotional honesty.
“Pretend you know the way out of the trap/ And we will go to sleep/ And we’ll have the same dream,” he sings on “Te Amo.” Like Brian Wilson, Cox’s songs are the confessions of a dreamer who understands the relentless “traps” of the world—a shared dream is one of the only places where genuine human connection can happen. “I am the man that fell to earth in a lot of ways,” Cox recently told Rolling Stone in an interview about the nervous breakdown he suffered prior to recording Parallax . “I don’t have a connection to anyone, besides my family.”
That’s a drag, but it’s this sadness that allows him to create such intimate music. In his songs, Bradford takes listeners by the hand and gently leads them away from a tragic universe and to a place where tortured souls aggregate their isolated fragments of joy to build a new world. Whether he feels it or not, Cox has a profound connection to everyone who experiences his music.
Atlas Sound performs Fri., Dec. 16, 8:30pm. $15. With Balkans + Carnivores. First Unitarian Sanctuary, 2125 Chestnut St. r5productions.com