Parallax (4AD, 2011)
by Atlas Sound
originally published at Dusted Magazine
If there’s a thoughtful reading out there of Parallax within the canon of Bradford Cox’s prior musical endeavors, or within the context of his recent nervous breakdown or his generally ongoing roller coaster ride of selfhood, this will not be it. I do not give Cox the same benefit of the doubt that Josie Clowney does, which is to say I’ve almost always found what he does boring, and taken his off-the-page antics as confirmation of the fact that what he does is boring. This is not to say I feel 100 percent justified in that appraisal, but to establish that I don’t spend much time listening to Bradford Cox.
Take it as you will, then, that Parallax strikes me as an extremely agreeable album, and moreover one whose songs come back to me at unexpected moments: the unbidden harmonica breakdown in “Praying Man,” the sinister loungey shuffle of the title track, the acrid summeriness of the chorus to “Mona Lisa,” which is either “Mona Lisa’s got you on” or “Mona Lee Saskatchewan,” plus whatever bedroom-recording mileage there is to be gotten from the fact that it’s hard to tell in the first place. Sometimes it comes back in less satisfying shapes, granted: in particular “Te Amo,” which sounds like it was built around a loop of a cell phone alarm clock (see bedroom-recording mileage comment above) and which finds Cox delivering his wispy poetics (“we’ll go to sleep / and we’ll have the same dream”) in the best Björk-style wail he can muster.
Parallax feels sparer than usual, flimsier, subtler in the way it embroiders the interesting stuff into songs that otherwise pussfyoot along repetitively, anemically, until someone loses interest. These songs aren’t weighty enough, individually or cumulatively, to leave an imprint — they fail to make a world out of themselves, leaving instead snatches of place, time of day, lighting conditions. It takes a few listens to tell, but that failure to coalesce into more than the sum of its parts is natural, not deliberate — the fruit of an aimless course through some of life’s everyday disarray, not of trying resolutely to stop short of trying. It’s a slight little album about fascinations, and a product of them, too, which, whether you share those fascinations or find them boring, is perfectly fine.back