Hypnotic Magic – “Parallax” by Atlas Sound
Atlas Sound’s “Parallax” is like watching a magic show, after each trick you find yourself asking what just happened. The trick starts with something simple, perhaps an empty hat or, for this album, the sound of guitar creating a hypnotic melody. Then, the magician, Bradford Cox, proves that the hat is in fact empty. He flourishes his cape and his voice whispers softly, perfectly complementing the hypnotic sound Cox is strumming out. By the end of the song you feel happy, like a dove has appeared out of thin air, and you just know it must have been magic! For those who did not pay close attention and notice the hidden flap at the top of the hat, the trick is seamless, but those who caught his sleight of hand, the surprisingly melancholy undertone to the lyrics, are not as impressed; to them it is merely a clever trick to amuse, to the rest of the audience, they just heard magic and are amazed. Unfortunately, once you know the secret of the trick it is too late to turn back so, instead of looking for the magic, pay attention to the clever design in this fantastic album.
While the songs may leave the gullible with a sense of joy, the more attentive listener will be left with the feeling of truly knowing what happens behind the scenes of life. In “Doldrums,” Cox sings, “Hey, there is a story no one likes to tell / yeah, it’s the story of a little boy who went to hell.” Bradford Cox suffers from a genetic disorder called Marfan syndrome and those afflicted by the disorder tend to have longer limbs, which in turn gives Cox a an awkward appearance. Along with the fact that his parents divorced and literally left him alone, it would not be a far stretch to imply the semi-autobiographical meaning behind these lyrics. In any case, Atlas Sound marvelously paints a picture that delves deeper into life with these simple words. Cox asks, “Hey, you got a story / would you trade with mine?” In “Doldrums” Cox reveals that life is not a Disney movie and he is sick of his story. Would you care to trade? Maybe starting from a different setting or with different supporting characters will reap a happier ending but he has his doubts. He thinks that for some people there is no such thing as a happily ever after. Sure, some boys go to heaven, but then again, some go to hell no matter what they do.
Bradford Cox does not let up the bleak nature but appealing style of his songwriting, immediately following “Doldrums” a delightful and soothing melody starts to play. It is the opening to “Flagstaff,” a real punch to the gut type of song and not for its bluntness. It’s harsh rather for the fact that it feels the wind has been knocked out of you once you discover the sad picture painted behind such a happy tune. “We came / We paid / And the we went away,” sings Cox. Looking at life through the lens provided in this song seems bleak and bland. As the song goes on, apprehension of just how bleak life truly begins to form. Cox cries, “Chained to the ground / so they can’t move around / They made such awful sounds.” Cox claims that life is not a gift but rather something you must endure, and sadly, as long as you live you find yourself chained to it. Cox coldly states, “I seen a future so dark / I’d describe it but / Your jaw would drop.” Slowly, as the song progresses, the seeing lens Atlas Sound provides grows darker and darker and life seems dismal now. Cox questions that if the future is worse, how do you get out? How can you possibly endure if it will never get any easier? How can you find the strength to struggle against the chains?
“Modern Aquatic Night Songs” is a slight shift in the viewing angle of the now darkened lens; Atlas Sound decides to take a closer look at some of the deeper aspects of life with a focus on love, in particular. Love is often described as gut wrenching, heart breaking, uncontrollable, and irrational. Love has no bias or discretion and the victims it chooses to afflict seem almost random. “Is your love worth the nausea it could bring / Is your love worth those you left hurting,” Cox demands. Cox has no shame in taking a cynical point of view on the topic of love as he sings, “Is your love a sunset chandelier / Is your love a song only you hear?” If love is a ghost that only you can see, hopefully you die before your love starts to rot. Cox sweetly croons, “And [I] hope the ground opens up / and swallows you and your love.”
In “Parallax,” Atlas Sound provides an album with songs that easily flow from one to the other. Whether you are listening to “Parallax” (the song from which the album draws its name), “Te Amo,” or “The Shakes,” each song sounds complete and able to stand-alone. While, at the same time, all songs are able to fit together in order to form a more polished finish. “Parallax” is a great starting album for those that have never listened to Atlas Sound before, and for those that have or for those that have listened to other Bradford Cox works like Deerhunter, “Parallax” is a fantastic album to add to any music collection. If you are listening to it as a whole, taking each song apart for your own deeper personal meaning, or just playing it in the background as you type up papers, Atlas Sound delivers an album that is well worth your time. I hope you enjoy this magic show as much as I did!