Monomania, the fifth studio full-length album from Atlanta art-punk band Deerhunter begins not with bang, but a croak. Following a few seconds of guitar interplay, frontman Bradford Cox howls a little before “Neon Junkyard” kicks into proper gear, then sings, “Finding the fluorescence in the junk / By night illuminates the day.”
Much like the band making it, this record’s a little weird, unpredictable, and off-putting. Deerhunter’s lineup has been in continual flux in recent years, which could be why Cox and company always manage to sound so delightfully just left of normal. But this band, which now comprises Cox, longtime members Moses Archuleta (drums) and Lockett Pundt (guitars, vocals), and new guys Frankie Broyles (guitars) and Josh McKay (bass, organ, etc.), has managed to continually transcend interpersonal drama to create some of the best and most interesting music in indie rock.
Monomania feels less like a collection of songs that belong together and more like simply a group of great tunes. Pundt brings his gorgeous, mournful vocals and inspired melodies to “The Missing,” which follows like an anvil to the hangover racket of “Leather Jacket II,” its guitars screaming, drums crashing. As off-putting as Deerhunter can be, it isn’t afraid to get catchy (“Dream Captain”), nor does it shy away from gentle, ponderous ambling (“T.H.M.”), all of which lends to a lack of identity that often befits a great—if all over the place—mixture. There are just a handful of tracks on Monomania that could be aptly described as “sounding nothing like Deerhunter,” and that’s part of its charm.
Perhaps the best and weirdest track on Monomania is “Pensacola,” a rollicking country jam—complete with steel guitar—that hints at young, chorus-less Bob Dylan at his best. Seemingly an ode to escaping to Florida from the town that’s given the narrator nothing but a “bald head and trouble,” “Pensacola” finds Cox whooping and yelping and sounding like he’s having a damn good time. It’s as if he found the fluorescence in the junk and simply couldn’t wait to share it with the world.