“Spooky action at a distance” was an unexpectedly charming phrase Albert Einstein coined to undermine the principal of “quantum entanglements,” a post-relativity theory he initially found dubious. (It gained wide acceptance among physicists later on.) To the degree I understand it, which is, uh, limited, the theory describes the mysteriously correlated effects particles have on each other, even after actual contact, even across great gulfs of space. As a title for Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt’s latest Lotus Plaza record, it may or may not be more than just an evocative idiom. Still, there has been some cosmic teeter-tottering to his songwriting: fuzz pushing downward, vocal melody rebounding up. The Floodlight Collective, Pundt’s first solo effort, went beyond haze into total snow-blindness; a fog so thick that light shone on it could only reflect dull glow. It was pretty, but undecipherable. On his two writing highlights from Deerhunter’s terrific Halcyon Digest, Pundt passed textural glow headed towards connected pop. Spooky Action at a Distance is yet another step towards clarity. But even his heightened directness has an elusive quality—a focus on your cheek that shyly stands in for full eye-contact. This record is not built to startle.
Pundt’s new songs sometimes suggest shoegaze with realigned priorities. Saturating dreaminess isn't achieved by overwhelming volume. The guitar tones can build to a crackling roar, though held to the back of the mix (or at least the middle). The woozy, repetitive feedback squeal of “White Galactic One” could eat the song whole if it wanted to, yet the noise is tamed and curbed behind plain, ringing vocal harmonies. When kept in tidy jangle-pop hooks, the guitars fit in even gentler. The sound of Pundt’s voice is effective in a way that only sinks in on repeated listens. He sounds slightly bloodless, semi-sedate at first. Bradford Cox’s desperate, candle-lit dramatics aren’t often emulated. But there’s a weird depth to his flat affect, an uncanny lift in even minor sighs.
While vocal presence is the thing you notice most, an improved sense of in-song dynamics is maybe the bigger leap. The Floodlight Collective could be painfully static; Spooky Action moves. “Jet Out of the Tundra” is built on a suitably rad bedrock of fat bassline and sharp drum kick. It’s not an outside-the-box piece for this sort of longing pysch-pop, but an important addition nonetheless. “Remember Our Days” builds a motorik rhythm in miniature. Propulsion keeps the lazily elongated melody from seeming like a content yawn. Album closer “Black Buzz” is its best, and Pundt has the good sense to surround his top poetry with strummy empty space. “At the cliff now of your own free will, draw the shades down to the windowsill.” The minor ambient drone that starts the record was worrying, a false sign that Lotus Plaza might remain non-committal, but the one that ends it feels earned. With its subject’s lonely headspace articulated so plainly, the drift to nothingness has higher stakes.