Before Monomania's release, Deerhunter described the album's music as "nocturnal garage" -- an accurate, if somewhat elliptical, nutshell explanation of what Bradford Cox and crew (who include new bassist Josh McKay and additional guitarist Frankie Broyles) are up to on this set of songs. After Halcyon Digest's nostalgic haze and the fragile beauty of Atlas Sound's Parallax, it seemed that Cox was drifting further away from the rawness of his early days. He breaks away from this insular turn on Monomania -- to a point. The album's first two songs, the unabashedly messy "Neon Junkyard" and riff-fest "Leather Jacket II," are the musical equivalent of blowing off steam after the more considered, delicate territory of Cox's recent past. It's not until "The Missing"'s chiming guitars and harmonies that Monomania offers something resembling Deerhunter's more recent output, and that song was written by longtime guitarist Lockett Pundt. Cox sometimes goes overboard with his fondness for abrasiveness, as on "Nitebike"'s over the top vocal posturing or the way the odd coughing/barking backing vocals shatter "THM"'s pretty reverie. More often, though, Monomania's willfully raw sounds adopt the tough persona and iconography of rock music with a capital R as shelter, like donning a leather jacket and a sneer as armor against life's hardships. Cox borrows Julian Casablancas' croak on "Pensacola" and Queen's lyrics on "Dream Captain," where "I'm just a poor boy from a poor family" is just one of the scruffy rock clichés that he celebrates. Deerhunter's more familiar introspection creeps into Monomania's "nocturnal" songs, where the band uses its dreaminess to channel the feelings the album's louder moments try to drown out. They do so especially well on the equally melodic and acerbic "Blue Agent" and the gorgeous "Sleepwalking," both of which examine the chasms between former friends and lovers with very different perspectives. The album may be most interesting when the band plays with its tough/vulnerable duality: the title track is a plea that sounds like it's on fire, while "Punk (La Vie Antérieure)" looks back on fearless days with tender acoustic guitars. At times, the album feels more meta than Deerhunter's previous music, a complex way of delivering songs that are often much simpler -- on the surface, anyway -- than usual. By turns raw and reflective, Monomania is about shaking things up; it's not as grand or cohesive as Microcastle or Halcyon Digest, but with repeated listens, its quick shifts in sound and mood feel more like different sides of the same coin than a split personality. Ultimately, it may be most remarkable for how easily Deerhunter can deliver catchy songs in any incarnation.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares