On the hunt with Deerhunter

Arranged urbanely around a large gray van, each bearing a cool, devil-may-care gaze, three of the five members of Atlanta’s Deerhunter loiter, hours before their show, behind The Underground — an appropriately named venue for a band that started out playing raucous Atlanta-area house parties and hole-in-the-wall joints packed with sweaty hipsters. Bassist Josh Fauver — the most vocal of the band members — was starting to get restless. Of life on the road, Fauver says, “I hate it. It’s boring.”

Despite the temporary ennui, this has been an eventful year for Deerhunter. Before playing at Austin’s megafestival South by Southwest, the band recorded its latest album Cryptograms in Commerce, Ga., a podunk town outside music mecca, Athens. Deerhunter also has a new EP scheduled for release on April 16, and if its new album and 2005’s turn it up faggot are any indicator of the band’s progress, the upcoming EP should be another delightfully dark and noisily intriguing journey into the murky depths of post-punk psychedelia.

If you went to grab an order of provolone sticks at The Underground on Tuesday, you might have noticed something different about this campus food destination; if four quirky looking guys with plaid shirts and scruffy beards playing instruments wasn’t weird enough for you, then a 6'5" singer weighing no more than 80 pounds clad in a woman’s dress was probably the clincher. This is what Deerhunter brings in style; in the words of singer Bradford Cox: “white trash.” Musically, Deerhunter’s perspective is much more sophisticated; their sound is blissful and chaotic at the same time. It’s trippy, yet totally danceable.

Playing in a venue clearly smaller than what they were used to, the band members were cramped onstage as they blasted their way through jams heavy in texture and energy. Drummer Moses Archuleta never lost his youthful spirit as he pounded out beats that had a hint of Ringo on The Beatles’s “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and — alongside Fauver — Archuleta made for a rhythm section powerful enough to make the puny walls of The Underground wobble. The guitar work of Locket Pundt and Mee was always tight, always interesting; even when the band veered off into a trippy jam toward DJ Shadow-land, both guitarists were in sync, as if they had the whole thing planned out. But in the end, it was Cox’s vocal work that set the band apart from its often whiney and obnoxious peers. Cox, whose microphone was jacked with reverb and looping effects, created sheets of sound with his voice (no sign of vocal melodies anywhere). The energy of the show climaxed when Cox jumped on tables chanting and pushing the band at the same time.

It is this tightness that has earned the band recent critical acclaim. Archuleta books Deerhunter’s shows, and by making friends with other bands they have scored gigs with such notables as Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Ex-Models, and Lightning Bolt. Evidently being sociable has paid off, and not just with other musicians; “Fans like you!” says a friend accompanying the guys on the tour.

And with good reason. In addition to being friendly, Deerhunter offers a fresh mixture of electronic and underground-rock music, and has a, well, interesting style that nobody has seen since the filthy beauty of Janis Joplin. But with the band’s growing popularity, who knows where it will be stylistically in the coming years. According to Fauver, the members of Deerhunter plan to record an album in their tour van. Avant garde? Maybe. Ambitious? Certainly.