As Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project evolves, continually releasing albums in between his primary band, Deerhunter, one is forced to ask an uncomfortable question. His solo recordings seem to be slowly arcing away from the fringes of their avant-electronic roots toward more standard pop territory, while Deerhunter, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems also to be retreating, this time from avant-noise toward that same poppier terrain. Is there room in the world for two Bradford Cox-fronted outfits making increasingly similar music? At this rate, it feels like the two bands will either a) merge identities after another album or two from each or b) cross paths briefly for a moment (a split LP, perhaps?), before spiraling off into different directions still. Someone should design a sweet Venn diagram at that point.
Regardless, Parallax is Cox’s third proper album under the Atlas Sound moniker, possibly his best so far, and certainly the one that contains the band’s most straight-laced pop to date. Songs like “Te Amo,” “Mona Lisa” and “Praying Man” are particularly infectious earworms, miles away from some of the more difficult, ambient material he’s been known to make under this musical identity. But just like an Atlas Sound live show, where you might get Cox on an acoustic guitar, Cox leading a full band or Cox playing a predominantly electronic set, Parallax nonchalantly pivots away from these moments for more ponderous, introspective tracks like “Flagstaff” and “Doldrums.”
The nice thing about an artist like Cox is that fans know they’ll never want for material. In between this and Logos, Atlas Sound’s last proper full-length, released in late 2009, Cox dropped four albums’ worth of demos and various oddities, calling them Bedroom Databank, Vol. 1-4. A mix of instrumental weirdness and more proper “songwriter” material, it nevertheless made one thing clear: Bradford Cox doesn’t need anyone but himself to release music. In the past, it’s been clear that when there is intra-band drama with Deerhunter, it’s not difficult at all for Cox to splinter off and make an Atlas Sound record. In the present, there’s a song like Parallax’s “My Angel is Broken,” which might as well be a Deerhunter b-side. In the future, you can’t help but think this guy will go in his own direction, with or without anyone’s help.