Solo acoustic guitar. Two-thirds of the way into the astral-folk voyage “Terra Incognita,” on Bradford Cox’s third record as Atlas Sound, the only sound you hear is solo acoustic guitar. There was a time when such a barely adorned moment would’ve been unthinkable from the notorious, fake-blood-spewing, cross-dressing Deerhunter frontman. It would’ve been as unlikely as Parallax‘s cover image — Cox as a slicked-back greaser clutching a vintage microphone.
Not anymore. On Deerhunter’s critically acclaimed 2010 effort, Halcyon Digest, the Atlanta band distilled their downcast noise-rock ecstasy into still-dreamier reveries; now it’s time for Cox’s dreamier half to get dreamier still. Iridescent electro-acoustic love songs for no one, angelic garage-pop regrets, and enough religious imagery to suggest that Cox and Girls’ Christopher Owens know the Holy Trinity even more intimately than the preachier Justin Bieber — Parallax easily encompasses it all, plus harmonica, too.
But a sci-fi tint shifts the perspective from Atlas Sound’s usual layered introspection: Inner space now has become outer space. On “Mona Lisa,” a gentle piano-pop tune reminiscent of John Lennon’s early solo work, the transition from shoegazing to stargazing is almost literal, as Cox imagines “entire galaxies” intruding on his daydreams. The final frontier? “I’d describe it,” our intrepid explorer coos into the void on “Flagstaff,” his floaty voice at its most richly nuanced. “But your jaw would drop.”