Atlas Sound, Amidst Oxen and Antelope, Captures Otherworldly Wonder at the Natural History Museum
View more photos in Timothy Norris' First Fridays slideshow.
The sloth skeletons, disembodied bird wings, and waxy humanlike figures of the Natural History Museum waited in the shadows. On the year's inaugural First Fridays, the dreamily dynamic soundscapes of Atlas Sound were main attraction. The capacity crowd filled the North American Mammal hall and witnessed the band's Bradford Cox conjure delay-washed etheral folk from a harmonica, a guitar, and a litany of electronics.
Cox sat center stage, hunched over an acoustic guitar with a harmonica dangling from his neck, and craned his head back to release a howl that soared above the taxidermied bison standing in the replica prairie behind him. The Deerhunter frontman was alone onstage, leaving behind the touring band he brought to the Troubadour back in November, but still filled the room with the lush textures of his looped guitar lines and multilayered orchestra of vocals. During "My Halo," Cox's lines of vocals swirled and tumbled louder, then suddenly dropped out, leaving just the slow strums of his acoustic and humming harmonica. "My halo is strange, no cure for this pain," he lamented, just his guitar and lonesome song amid the vastness of space, home, home on the synthetic range.
Cox is comfortable alone; he was relaxed and patient, holding the attention of the crowd, who rarely swayed or moved as he wrapped them within a blanket of sound. The audience somehow ignored exhibits displaying the birth of a pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) and a huddled family of musk oxen (Ovibos moschatus) braving the tundra, to watch Cox, who himself is an object of wonder.
He was born with the genetic connective tissue disorder Marfan Syndrome, creating an appearance that music writers obsessively write about. But seeing Cox live, it's hard to ignore his presence. His arms and legs are spindly, his craggy nose, an iceberg stranded in the middle of that angular face. His body curls around the guitar while his fingers seem to have extra segments that make them impossibly long. His haircut medieval and his suit hangs loosely, like a Depression-era banker. As he twists knobs and helms synths that produce the Eno-esque loops of "Walkabout," Cox is a living anachronism, a man outside of time.
His appearance and bizarre banter (a long story about rogue hamsters antagonized the audience) has the power to push people away, but his otherworldly sound and unencumbered honestly draws you in, holds you captive.
You are the exhibit in his museum.
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