Atlanta’s Deerhunter is known for a handful of scandalous things—in addition to a glowing reputation for creating top-notch ethereal noise rock—but imitating others has never been one of them. Though last year’s great Microcastle album incorporated broad swaths of psychedelia and garage rock, the stew was always shifting. A swirly song like “Never Stops” was strapped to a tight backbeat; grittier ones like “Nothing Ever Happened” maintained a ghostly weirdness. Conversely, Microcastle’s follow-up, the Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP, experiments with segregating those sounds, and the result is not only Deerhunter’s least experimental batch of songs yet, but music that often sounds like it was written by another band.
The EP’s titular first track is an unabashed Animal Collective tribute, with hallucinatory pop marked by shimmering guitars, spot-on harmonies, and big, loose drums. The only thing that distinguishes it as a Deerhunter song is Bradford Cox’s unmistakable doomed solipsism, as he kicks off the song singing, “Two weeks of misery / capture my heart and destroy me” in a deliciously sour warble. Surprisingly, what follows are two near-perfect Strokes songs: “Disappearing Ink,” with its disaffected vocals, and “Famous Last Words,” with its steady, junky forward-chug. “Game Of Diamonds” then returns to sunshiny territory, albeit in impressively minimal fashion, before the closer, “Circulation,” a longer garage-rock jam that takes a slight left turn into sound collage.
The thing is, the band succeeds handily in crafting these songs, but we’ve come to expect more from Deerhunter, who can only really be heard in the details: wilting minor chords, Cox’s slurred drawl, Lockett Pundt’s melty atmospherics. Of course, this release does succeed in one other key area for the mercurial group: building speculation for the next full-length.