In an age of endless touring and interviewing and Tweeting, Bradford Cox — the indie wonder-boy behind solo project Atlas Sound — has developed an enigmatic persona that’s both distant and within reach; he gives few interviews, but will drop demos, thoughts and entire albums on his blog. He allows for a feeling of closeness to his hazy, self-conscious drawl, but keeps enough romantic distance so that people aren’t clamoring to to hear, say, his favorite brand of toothpaste. Artistically, he’s as open as they come; socially, he’s quiet, almost erratic. And that makes him — and thus Parallax — all the more intriguing.
Atlas Sound’s songs are sincerely nostalgic for days spent locked in one’s bedroom, listening to and creating music. Cox develops them in a stream-of-consciousness style that renders them both experimental and spontaneously sentimental. Stylistically, Parallax is more melancholic than previous Atlas Sound recordings, adopting the gloomy haziness from Halcyon Digest, the excellent 2010 album from Cox’s band, Deerhunter. And while none of the songs on Parallax are as immediately catchy as “Walkabout,” from the 2009 album Logos, each are beautifully crafted pieces that take time to gain emotional traction.
The first few tracks take the Halcyon Digest path with spacious harmonies and a tortured-soul delivery. But the album then veers, adopting a dirty playfulness layered with clearer, almost ethereal vocals. The wholesome guitar on “Mona Lisa,” an undeniably joyous pop song, shows that Cox can write songs stripped of layered, fuzzy guitars.
The final tracks — notably “Terra Incognita” and “Flagstaff” — solidify the album’s strengths: It’s some of the most clear, personal and polished work Cox has created. The suave style of Parallax suggests he slaved over the songs for months, but Cox wrote the album in a week. It’s a powerful confirmation of his maturation as a songwriter. It’s equally evidence of his ability to draw us in without losing what makes him captivating.