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The Deer Tracks - The Archer Trilogy Pt. 3 (Control Group)

Deer Tracks - Archer Trilogy Pt. 3
1 March 2013

Disclosure: I haven’t heard the previous installments of The Archer Trilogy, so can’t say for sure what makes this the concluding chapter, but based on the narrative sequence of the album covers, I imagine part one as a burst of galvanizing violence (volley of arrows), part two as its consequences (bleeding corpse), and part three as a resurrection (victorious figure, still bleeding). And maybe that’s some kind of metaphor for The Deer Tracks’ musical evolution over the past three years, since this project began, but there are a few reasons I don’t care to talk about this new album as part of a trilogy, beyond not having enough information; one reason constitutes a negative remark on the album, one a positive remark, and one neither (philosophical), but all related.

First, the lyrics have no content to justify it. The only non-nonsense word that registers with any kind of force or regularity is “love” (and attendant sentiments), and it’s not enough to imply the closing of an arc.

Second, the music mostly succeeds on its own terms. On that basis, this must be a trilogy motivated by intuitive musical connections, maybe by place or by era, so to give its installments such cumbersome titles is to undermine them, to scare off potential new listeners. Imagine if David Bowie’s Low had been called The Berlin Trilogy Pt. 1.

Third, I resist the imposition of such grossly narrative terms on music. Even the best story songs and concept albums have a relaxed attitude toward narrative. And Pt. 3 shares that attitude, or at least lacks one as inflexible as the demands of its title.

The album begins, then, to its benefit, not with any kind of desperate dramatic momentum but with the insistent illogic of some late 90s fever dream. The a cappella blooms of prelude “Ill” suggest a continuation of Elliott Smith’s “I Didn’t Understand,” sung by two voices and made half as lonely, before giving way on “W” to the album’s dominant mode, fragile vocals backed with robust, glitchy electronics. The Deer Tracks combine these in a manner that only Björk continues to do with any kind of art, and the fit is a bit more awkward here, achieving the ethereal but not always the natural beauty that Björk conjures (or even Owen Pallett, he treads here sometimes), regardless the modern implements. One wishes the considerable productions and careful set of electronic textures could more often be pulled out from under Elin Lindfors’ sometimes too inflected vocals and allowed to pursue ideas that aren’t simply in support of the vocal. Instead of everything working together to transmit some trembling emotion, some unprecedented music might happen.

There are such moments, as on “Divine Light,” which culminates in an unlikely combination of elements, a disco beat, a string section, and synths as barely contoured and wholly visionary as the ones on Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine, all aligned for the climactic set of chords, whose turbulence lends sense to the union. “Red Eyed Zebra” and “Astral Ship” both contain decisive moments when a sudden sharp accent clarifies and organizes what seemed timid, nebulous before, now revealed as dense with all kinds of latent rhythmic matter. Lindfors’ vocals are part of this web, too (“come! find! me!” she whispers, assisting the beat), and this is how the music sounds when all its elements seem destined for each other.

Even these moments sound kind of old, but there’s a charm in this. The Deer Tracks come from Sweden, a place whose musicians I’ve always imagined as being immune (maybe I grant them this immunity as a listener) from the boring chore of giving recycled sounds new currency. The Deer Tracks aren’t alone in gravitating toward an outdated style, and in this case, everything they touch remains slightly passé, but it’s not to their detriment. Their music might come across much different in Sweden, but here, the distance gives the music free reign to imagine its own era, whether past, composite or entirely fictional. The Deer Tracks dub theirs Archer, a cool island, and now that this era is complete, something slightly less remote is hopefully at hand.