At this point Bradford Cox releases so much free Atlas Sound material on his blog there has to be a good reason for piecing a bunch of new songs together and expecting you to pay for it. Who knows how he decides when to turn a sketch into a finished piece, but that the 11-song Logos, his second proper Atlas Sound full-length, flows together so gorgeously as a 44-minute patchwork of sounds, seems reason enough. It also showcases a marked upgrade in songwriting since Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, suggesting that maybe all that free downloadable practice paid off: The gurgling, angelic opener “The Light That Failed” quietly pours into the shuffling half-step of “An Orchid,” which finds itself inside an echo chamber and blooms fully with “Walkabout.” Cox has said “almost everything” on Logos “is a first take” and likens it to a live album “where a band sets up in a studio and just rolls tape.” He also notes, perhaps disingenuously, that “there are songs on here I don’t even remember recording.” Whatever the case, that sort of spontaneity — a decision not to over think — is another factor in making Logos a tighter, (much) more focused collection than its predecessor.
He’s writing songs, not just exercises. Cox isn’t one to pull punches or leave folks guessing, so as he’s already done some of the homework for you, explaining what he sees as the difference between the two collections:
My last album was a bedroom laptop type thing. Very introverted. Logos is an album that was recorded all over the world. It’s not about me. There are collaborations with other musicians. The lyrics are not autobiographical. The view is a lot more panoramic and less close-up. I became bored with introspection. This was also the case Deerhunter’s Microcastle LP, which was written during the same period … It’s a collection of songs. There is no “filler.” There are little scrapbook details everywhere.
It might not be about him, but that’s him nude on the album cover, his navel staring out at us from below an obscured (and saintly) mug (i.e. it’s about him). Still, you’ve heard some of what he’s talking about firsthand via his Animal Collective turn on the “Walkabout“: It plainly feels more like a Noah Lennox production than Atlas Sound. Then there’s the elegant 9-minute “Quick Canal” show stopper, which features the immediately recognizable vocals of Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier as its spirit guide. She also wrote the lyrics atop Cox’s background. He explains how he took the backseat:
The song was originally about 15 minutes long. I had zero ideas for vocals and asked if she could give it a shot. Andy Ramsay [Drummer for Stereolab] took a dub of the original and recorded Laetitia’s vocals at his press play studio in London. It was quite a treat to hear the finished product, now at an economical 9 minutes.
All that said, his fingerprints (and ghostly backups) are everywhere. And he wisely follows the aforementioned more anonymous excursions with the warm, semi-upbeat and first-person “Criminals” and the also first-person “My Halo.” (“My body will burn,” even amid the song’s icy dream-pop lope.)
Anyhow, yes, it remains the Bradford Cox show, and it can be dazzling: You’ve heard the spaciously intimate “Attic Lights.” You’ve seen “Kid Klimax” via La Blogotheque: The Logos version includes fuzzed-up vocals, electro percussion, well-timed snaps, a drone swell, and various squiggles, etc., in addition to the guitar and vocals. A true standout’s “Sheila,” a lovely (and heartbreaking) we’ll grow old and bury ourselves together track: “Because no one wants to die alone.” And, as mentioned before the jump, the way the first three tracks smear together as some sort of progression is pretty special.
As far as endings, the album closes with the shimmering conga line of “Washington School” (fans of “Walkabout” take note) and the Kraut-y and then whirling title track, Cox singing about spirits floating up and ostensibly discoursing on the overall theme of what we’ve just heard. It’s hard to make out exactly what he’s saying, though, because the vocals are muffled. That’s the thing: What makes Bradford’s projects successful, no matter how much hype he receives or how much he opens up about what he’s doing, is that his songs contain a certain listen-to-me-again mystery. In the end he’s tapping into something achingly personal and also unknowable, even if he tells you otherwise.
Logos is out 10/20 via Kranky.