It's no secret that not only are Deerhunter one of the more consistent bands of the last while, but that between said group and his own solo platform Atlas Sound, leader Bradford Cox is experiencing a songwriting period of such robust fertility that only the absurdly inexhaustible Robert Pollard is capable of siring more tunes than he. Add on to this Cox's confrontational brand of self-expression (ranging from blood-smeared performances in drag to hour-long impromptu renditions of "My Sharona") and you've got someone to whom it's difficult not to give one's attention.
But ever so quietly, Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt has been amassing a clutch of songs that are just as worthy of praise. Pundt's approach has always been unassuming and patient—no doubt a big reason why he so well fits alongside Cox in Deerhunter. The guy is quite content to throw a couple tunes into the mix on the group's records, and to deliver them in the kind of low-gear croon that suggests he might not be too phased if they didn't appear at all.
But on 2010's Halcyon Digest, something happened that tipped the scales a bit. Once again, Pundt had only a pair of tunes. But this time, they were probably the best two tracks on a very strong record: the warmly nostalgia chug of "Fountain Stairs" and, especially, the swirling, ebullient rush of "Desire Lines." It's not that he shamed Cox by any measure, but there was no doubt that many fans left the record wanting more, a lot more, from this guy.
At the time, his own solo turn, Lotus Plaza, had sadly but one record—2009's The Floodlight Collective—and it was hardly as assured as either tune on Halcyon Digest. Though pretty enough, that record never really projected the belief that it deserved to be anything more than a curiosity for the faithful.
The brand new Spooky Action at a Distance may have a title that suggests a similar reticence, but it is a very different record. This is the kind of record one would expect from the guy who authored "Desire Lines" and "Fountain Stairs." And in the process, Pundt has maybe for the first time overshadowed his prolific bandmate. For while Atlas Sound's last record, 2011's Parallax, is a really great record (and maybe the most cohesive solo record Cox has put together) there's something just that much more likeable and immediate in Spooky Action.
Part of it is that the album traffics happily in the same sort of "Yeah, I know this is a total ripoff, but it's still a great song" brand of idol worship that makes for many Deerhunter's best moments. You can see the DNA of dozens of great indie and shoegaze bands of the past two decades all over Spooky Distance, but Pundt never pretends that he's trying to do anything different (chances are, you'll be too caught up in the fun to notice yourself).
Just as important to this record's success, however, is the way that he completely avoids Cox's propensity for self-indulgence. Parallax is lovely, but it's hard to listen to it and not feel like the final third falls into a melancholic slump; or that for all of its groovy drum machine/loop moments, the best tunes are the ones where he plays it straight. Pundt, on the other hand, just plays indie rock without any of the detours, and he does it beautifully.
As a personality and a long-term career, Cox may be the safer bet. But for all of his solid work thus far, he's still yet to make a record on his own that's as consistently pleasing as this one.