ALBUMS OF THE DECADE: Deerhunter’s ‘Halcyon Digest’

MMC Writers reflect on their favorite records of the 2010s.

I consider the terms “favorite” and “significant” to be related, yet distinct, terms for music lovers. Favorite albums can come and go as our tastes evolve and we discover new artists. Significant albums, however, are more permanent, serving as musical markers points in our lives.

Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest is the most significant album of my life.

For the first time, I understood the cohesive statements albums could make. These 11 songs act like sketches and dreams, representing how memories stick with us and shape us, regardless of their accuracy. Bradford Cox’s words are frequently full of description (“Fountain Stairs”) or emotion (“Coronado”), but rarely both at the same time. His dedications to Dmitry “Dima” Makarov (“Helicopter”) and Jay Reatard (“He Would Have Laughed”) don’t read as tributes so much as inspired streams of consciousness.

For the first time, I appreciated the intricacies of an album’s production, from the gliding, arpeggiating outro on “Desire Lines” courtesy of guitarist Lockett Pundt, to the bubbling, intoxicating atmosphere of opener “Earthquake.” The intimate “Sailing” evokes those nights you give up a secret to your friends after everyone else is asleep. Producer Ben Allen (who also worked on Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion) gives the album a bedroom-like intimacy that still sparkles.

For the first time, I understood how an album can reflect the experiences of individuals and groups alike. As a queer man, Cox’s lyrics speak directly to those in the LGBTQ community (a father’s shame on “Memory Boy”). Yet they also resonate with anyone who’s recently come of age and feeling the pangs of nostalgia for the first time. Through our twenties, we start to reflect on our upbringing (“Don’t Cry”) and wonder where our old friends are (“Basement Scene”). The miracle of Halcyon Digest lies in how precisely it captures these sensations.

I was 20 when Halcyon Digest was released, just as I was discovering indie rock. No record could serve as a better entry. I consider “Desire Lines” my first introduction to shoegaze. The horns on “Fountain Stairs” and “Coronado” would loop in my head while I attended my college classes. Halcyon Digest was the first album I couldn’t stop talking about to my college roommates or family. My love for other 2010s indie rock albums—including Days, Hope Downs, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, A Deeper Understanding—wouldn’t have been possible without falling in love with Halcyon Digest first.

Memories aren’t photographs or video clips. They’re recreated every time we recall them. Details change. Chronologies are mixed up. Yet in the moment, that doesn’t matter, because they feel real. And with Halcyon Digest, those feelings come to life every time I press play.