The creation of the second full length album from Deerhunter was apparently a completely exhausting process in more ways than one, with the band going through personal, financial, and psychological turmoil during the course of a nearly two year period. Cryptograms is the resulting effort, a twelve track release that veers back and forth like a series of wild mood swings, morphing from billowy clouds of ambience to \noise-damaged rock tracks and a second half that seems to hone in more closely on psych-touched dance rock tracks.
To be sure, it's yet another surprise from the usually more ambient-focused Kranky label, but it's easy to hear the connective tissue that bridges Deerhunter to other artists on the label as well. After opening the release with an eerie, pitch-warbling track of lo-fi electronic drones, the album really takes off in full with the album-titled "Cryptograms." Starting out with waves of dry rippling guitar and filtered vocals, the track explodes about a third of the way through with a gut-rumbling bass line that dances all over the place while sprays of guitar blast out. The remainder of the track folds the two sides of the song over on themselves and sprints to the finish, reaching a fever pitch before dissolving into feedback washes.
The first half of Cryptograms keeps up this back and forth action, alternating between lush ambient pieces like "White Ink," "Providence," and "Red Ink" and noiser rocking moments. All three of the softer tracks work similarly, mixing everything from filtered bells and field recordings over the top of delayed guitar-based ambient pieces that find just the right space between haunting and soothing. Between those pieces are the noisier guitar tracks that work a similar formula as the one the group stated on the album-titled track. Both "Lake Somerset" and "Octet" definitely have their moments, but ultimately end up feeling a bit too unfocused, especially since they're surrounded on all sides by even more spacey material.
As mentioned above, the latter section of the release finds the group moving in a slightly different direction (it was recorded during a different session than the first) and it's really when they're at their most promising and successful. "Strange Lights" is easily the most poppy song on the entire release, clocking in at a lean three and a half minutes. The entire track is cloaked in a hazy shroud of reverb, but like great Jesus and Mary Chain tracks that are built the same way, the hooks still manage to latch in. Both "Hazel St." and "Heatherwood" are even better, as both tracks strip back the fog just slightly to reveal propulsive rhythm sections, more dreamy vocals, and just enough spectral flourishes to highlight the downright dancey feel of the pieces. Although it's definitely a bit bi-polar, Cryptograms still gets high marks for offering up a slew of great tracks and actually gaining strength the longer it goes on. It's a great second album for the group, and an even further widening of the Kranky sound.