A couple of weeks back, Sam Lewis wrote about the Times New Viking record, and how it used noise as a kind of social lubricant, a coagulate conducting reach between the gaggle of Ohio kids trapped in the CD and the poor ears of anyone bold enough to venture within hissing distance. There was pop and tune at the heart of Rip it Off, doubtless, but to get at it you had to brace for the sloppy kiss, return its gesture with outstretched arms and clutch it close to feel that heart beating madly through your own chest. While Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project owes just as much to noise, his debut album, like Deerhunter’s Cryptograms, uses LOUD in a different way, erecting a playfully vain barrier, using the distortion like Bowie used the Thin White Duke to mask his Victoria station Nazi salute, acting out like a dumb kid.
A mask, or at least the desire to wear one, often tends to reveal more about the wearer than it obscures, and so it’s the case here, though it’s pretty obvious that Bradford Cox – the rabid ‘bloggist and frankest interviewee – is aware of that. Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is as awkward in nature as it is by name, a lonely, awkward teenage mess of a debut solo album that sees Cox retreat from his band mates behind a slamming bedroom door, thirsty to splash in the sweat patches of his own contradictions. Depressed/euphoric, loud/quiet, bolshy/fragile, proud/possessive – all of it adds up to pop/not pop, ‘actual songs’ only occasionally rearing up from a wash of raw sound. A path trodden in by the finest rock has to offer – Velvet Underground, Ramones, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, et cetera – it’s one that Bradford Cox follows cautiously but obviously, like a snot-lipped kid watching his big brother’s first girlfriend get fingered despite the mouthed warnings to “fucking get out now” coming from over the girl’s shoulder.
Still, even with all the bare souls, Cox remains complicated enough that if you take the bait and attempt to build a psychological profile from what is, in its heart of hearts if not its mind’s eye, a ‘pop’ record, Let the Blind… can quickly become overwhelming. How are we supposed to know, for instance, whether Cox’s ghostly vocal – deliberately slurred and slowed on tracks like ‘Quarantined’_ and ‘Cold as Ice'; a blessed-out Chino Moreno – is rising bravely through a mountain of wanton noise or hidden there by a front man twitchy in the absence of band mates? No-one will ever really know apart from Cox himself, though that, I suppose, is the whole point.
No – Let the Blind…’s interest lies in letting you see through the crack in the bedroom door, posing like it knows you’re watching (but you don’t know it knows you’re watching), safe ‘cause whatever happens you’ll never be able to see the vain motives written in its mind. Which all sounds very paranoid, and that makes sense when you’re such a scared, scarred record. But it’s also one that wraps itself in that fear as a means of protection, Cox cocooning himself in the noise and distortion, bass drum buried like a pulse. It’ll be a long while before this record is ready to even think about giving you a hug.
The company of others is sacrificed, there’s a lonesome retreat into a smoke-filled adolescent bedroom, or a skull, or a shell, Cox wading through his own imagination to return with the perambulating dub of ‘Cold as Ice’ or ‘Scraping Past’’s brilliant, spectral guitar wash. Vocals were recorded in one take, apparently; dumb and all the better for it, (“I slept ‘til I threw up / I slept as you made lunch” – ‘Ativan’). “I’m… waiting to be changed,” Cox sings on ‘Quarantined’, his subconscious betraying the security of the skull he’d banked on earlier. There are times on Let the Blind…, when the music around Cox veers subtly in the right direction, where you can hear the grub’s surprise as he wakes up with Great Admiral wings, ugly white noise turning psychedelic.
One such moment comes early in Let the Blind…, on the majestically bruised ‘Recent Bedroom’, before grasps on time and space are lost in its endless shimmer. Over time that disorientation begins to mean less, but it’s so ridiculously potent that it remains, at times, a drawback. It’s at least three tracks overlong – I’d cut ‘On Guard’, ‘Bite Marks’ and the title track – and about three months’ worth of ideas over-wide, so full of thought that flashes of inspiration are forgotten almost immediately in favour of newer bursts. As the album drifts into nothingness, Cox’s wandering mind can be infuriating – melodies on tracks like _‘Winter Vacation’ never settle, Cox opening his throat haphazardly as if he thinks there exists a magical combination of notes that’ll see the heavens open and Atlas Sound can do what Atlas always wanted to and finally throw the burden off his shoulders to ascend.
He probably won’t of course – he’s no mythical Titan, just a kid who fell asleep stoned with his headphones on – but nevertheless Let the Blind… makes for a reasonable attempt, its pop becoming known, as its title suggests, only through repetition, hands feeling in the dark, reaching through 14 tracks where age and time are lost in puddles of noise and song structures leak like old guttering.