Pop music: there ain't much to it. And that's often what is most enticing about it, for listeners and musicians alike. The former gets instant access to an enjoyable experience (usually, anyway). And musicians? Well, they get an immediate template to follow...or mess with.
Some of the best indie music—not just recently, but for decades, really—has been made by musicians in this spirit. A simultaneous worship and subversion of pop music's most basic blueprints. Surf rock. Folk music. Wall-of-sound pop. Rockabilly. Any of these configurations can be manipulated and skewed endlessly until even the most basic two-chord song can be turned into a fresh experience.
It was the stock trade of bands like Pavement and Guided By Voices, groups who used feedback, collage, loose musicianship, lyrical non-sequiturs, and intentionally bruised recording techniques to add new dimensions to songs that often would've been at home on albums released decades prior. And it's essentially what makes Atlas Sound so appealing.
Whether under this solo moniker or in the group he leads, Deerhunter, Bradford Cox is about as revered as a musician can get without nudging himself into the mainstream consciousness. Parallax continues his absolutely dizzying pace of releasing songs (something he also shares with indie greats like GBV's indefatigable Bob Pollard)—but what's most baffling about it is how high a standard he's been able to maintain as of late.
In part, he can thank the digital revolution for this not coming across as overkill. Where previous eras' overproductive artists (like Lou Barlow or Pollard) would flood the market with an endless stream of singles, EPs, and demo albums on tiny indie labels, today one can choose to release one's 'lesser' music quietly via free downloads (as Cox did last year on his intriguing four-part Bedroom Databank collection). The result? A goldmine for obsessive geeks that still allows something like Parallax to be counted as only your third album—as well as letting you appear prolific, yet not overly vain about foisting your product upon the world. (That said, one of Parallax's best tracks is a reworking of "Mona Lisa", the opener on Bedroom Databank's third volume.)
As for Cox's terrific track record of late, let's just say that this lovely album does nothing to diminish it, even if it does lack the highlights of his past album, Logos. Where that record found him paired with Panda Bear ("Walkabout") and Laetitia Sadier ("Quick Canal") to produce quantum leaps in Atlas Sound's music, Parallax is more consistent in mood and finds him completely at ease with his abilities and instincts. It's a tremendously relaxed album, but it never sounds lazy or unfocused. Whether presenting dreamily-framed looped odes ("Te Amo") or in-the-back-pocket shimmies ("Nightworks"), he's always on target. Whether with giants of pop music's past or his own persona and style, Cox's intelligent manipulation of the ideas at hand continues to make for a great listen.