Bedroom Databank Vol. 1-4
It’s kind of a headfuck thinking about how future generations might process Bradford Cox. What will his discography even look like when he’s done? There’s no lack of respect for legends like Robert Pollard, Mark E. Smith, or Stereolab, but the really prolific artists usually suffer for it in the end, autumn summations of their careers focusing on a few heyday records, i.e. “the good ones,” and barely cherry picking key tracks from decades of subsequent work. How does one reckon the lasting worth of something like the four volumes of Atlas Sound’s Bedroom Databank, 49 tracks seemingly recorded by Cox entirely in the summer and fall of 2010 and dumped online in a heap for free download at the end of last month? Discussion of Cox is now consumed by year-end plaudits for Deerhunter’s sublime Halcyon Digest. If the entire internet can’t bother to dig into 49 songs from one of the moment’s premier musicians, are they destined to just slip away into the ether? Do they deserve to?
Though personal song preferences may vary, it’s fair to say that Deerhunter, whose output filters through four distinctly tasteful artists, has been more consistent than Cox’s solo work. Even on official, commercially sold records, Atlas Sound can sound scattered and unfinished. This goes triple for the Bedroom Database material, full of fragments, failures, false starts. But the tangents intrigue. Cox talked in press for Halcyon Digest of compulsive Neil Young listening, a comparison no else really made. It’s all over these new songs though, with numerous sketches of harmonica-drenched, loosely strummed Americana (Canadiana). Lesser influences also emerge. The graceful jamming of “Autumn Intro Cascading into University Courtyard” evokes Steve Malkmus’s lackadaisical guitar prowess better than anyone. The tranquil “Helio Intro” is still so nauseously out of wack that it trumps his old “ambient punk” experiments by inventing “ambient industrial.” These, mind you, are still the complete toss-offs.
Once unearthed from the four-to-one ratio against, the hits here have real staying power. Cracked pop tunes like “Mona Lisa” and “Wild Love” have sticky hooks overshadowing rough edges. The blown-out, underwater classic rock of Cox singing Dylan and the Band’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” might foreshadow big, populist moves to come. Impromptu or not, there’s even serious lyrical depth to be found. “How to Pass the Time” articulates Cox’s manic prolificacy: “When youth fades and it always does/you’ll wish you made something that was/filled up with the energy/that powered all your memory.” The lovely “Terrarium” metaphorically hints at a maturing understanding of the internet’s corrosive aspects. “We were living in a terrarium in the center of the town/we got sick of all the kids looking in and poking fun.” Cox loves track orders and album covers enough to package used-up ideas as some segmented digital box-set. But editing it down allows the listener some satisfying power. You can’t find the best Atlas Sound record by snapping together the right puzzle pieces, but you can winnow down to a product that sounds an awful lot like that mythical LP’s rough draft. That’s worth something.