Atlas Sound: A Pop Gem, At Long Last A near-perfect pop song, "Mona Lisa" provides a look at a great mind's creative process.
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Mona Lisa

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Atlas Sound: A Pop Gem, At Long Last

Review

Atlas Sound: A Pop Gem, At Long Last

Mona Lisa

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Atlas Sound's "Mona Lisa" is not only a near-perfect pop song; it also provides a look at a great mind's creative process. Hisham Bharoocha hide caption

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Hisham Bharoocha

Atlas Sound's "Mona Lisa" is not only a near-perfect pop song; it also provides a look at a great mind's creative process.

Hisham Bharoocha

Tuesday's Pick

Song: "Mona Lisa"

Artist: Atlas Sound

CD: Parallax

Genre: Pop-Rock

Some musicians are so prolific, it can be difficult as a listener to know which stuff is worth hearing. Only the truest diehard fans can go down the rabbit hole of buying and cataloging every recorded utterance of Robert Pollard, Ryan Adams or Prince, let alone have time to listen and connect to the songs therein. In many respects, the same can be said of Bradford Cox, the enigmatic mastermind behind Deerhunter and Atlas Sound. In a short time, Cox has put out a steady stream of exceptional albums with both projects, but he also has the tendency to unfurl so many Internet singles, few can keep up.

Somewhere, there's a line where that kind of prolificacy — often a mixture of untethered musical brilliance, a formidable work ethic and a compulsive need to release every idea that pops up — becomes a detriment. Cox tested that out last Thanksgiving, when he dropped four albums' worth of demos on his blog, recorded over only a couple months' time. For those who filtered through the nearly 50 songs, his four-volume Bedroom Databank recordings included everything from nearly finished works and moody instrumental sequences to aborted song blueprints and minimal experimental collages. A lot of it was raw and unrefined, the equivalent of musical throat-clearing, but the gems in there showed potential for something more.

Among the best was "Mona Lisa," a rollicking, psychedelic pop song on the third collection. Instantly catchy and singable, "Mona Lisa" was almost too good for life as an unreleased track. Apparently, Cox thought so, too. "Mona Lisa" has now been re-recorded on Parallax, Cox's gorgeously produced new album under the Atlas Sound moniker. In its finished form, "Mona Lisa" is about as poppy and concise as Cox's music gets. At three minutes, the song is packed with great-sounding instruments — crisp acoustic guitar, a steady pulse of piano, lots of little flourishes around the edges — and a memorable chorus.

Atlas Sound's words can be somewhat elusive, even a little existential, as Cox wonders, "How many apologies were interrupted by learning how to read? Looking at the sky?" But he uses this song's lyrical simplicity and repetition to build tension. At the midway point, just where Cox would normally let the song sprawl into noisy catharsis, he instead keeps it contained, content to repeat the line, "Your baby's sleepin' sleepin,'" and break the form a little before returning to the top. In an album full of great moments, this is easily one of the highlights.

If nothing else, Bedroom Databank lifted the curtain on Cox's creative process and how many ideas he digests before he comes up with a song that works for him. Side by side with the more fully fleshed-out rendition on Parallax, "Mona Lisa" is not only a near-perfect pop song, but also a fascinating look at how — even for one of the most talented and compelling figures in independent rock — not all great songs come out perfectly sculpted. Some just require a little space to grow.