Inspired by the flyer culture of punk and college rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Deerhunter introduced Halcyon Digest with an “interactive Xerox art project” in which fans photocopied an old-school flyer made by Bradford Cox, pasted it around their towns, photographed it and sent the results back to the band. Besides being a clever viral strategy to drum up interest for the album, it speaks to the way Deerhunter approaches how fleeting and important memories can be on these songs. Given how prolific Cox and crew have been together -- and separately, with his Atlas Sound project and Lockett Pundt's Lotus Plaza -- since 2007’s Cryptograms, it’s not surprising that they took this opportunity to look back. Halcyon Digest reveals a quieter, sometimes gentler Deerhunter than expected, and while Cox doesn’t exactly sound tired, there’s an occasional rasp in his voice that wasn’t there before. Instead of emphasizing sonics that spiral out into the stratosphere as they did on Microcastle or Rainwater Cassette Exchange, the band emphasizes the dream part of their dream-pop roots. Halcyon Digest gets off to a sleepy start with “Earthquake,” where sluggish beats, looping guitars and reminiscences of “waking up on a dirty couch” feel like being awoken from a dream, or maybe going deeper into one; “Sailing” is a reverie on a pier, so whispered and intimate that it sounds like it belongs on a Cox solo album. Despite its delicacy, Halcyon Digest is some of Deerhunter's most down-to-earth music, and offers some of the band’s most thoughtful songwriting. Cox is more interested in playing with layers of nostalgia than layers of sound, expressing his yearning by channeling the music of youth and rebellion of decades past. “Don’t Cry” and “Basement Scene” evoke the eternally teenage sound of the Everly Brothers, filtered through a fever dream; the excellent “Memory Boy” cherishes “the smell of loose-leaf joints on jeans” with sparkling Anglophilic ‘60s pop. This may also be Deerhunter’s most emotionally varied album, spanning the jubilant sax on the oddly Strokes-like “Coronado” to “Helicopter”'s heartbreaking chamber-pop, which embodies lonely side of memories. The band saves just enough room for two quintessentially Deerhunter tracks: Pundt's gorgeous “Desire Lines” is a standout, taking flight halfway through into a glorious guitar excursion, while the transporting final track “He Would Have Laughed” is all the more poignant for its dedication to Jay Reatard. It’s not as immediate as previous Deerhunter albums, but Halcyon Digest has an appeal all its own: It’s as difficult to grasp -- and as hard to shake -- as a memory lingering at the back of your brain.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares