Atlas Sound might have been presented to the world as the solo "side project" of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, but it stands some chance of eclipsing that band, at least among a different class of listeners: sleepier ones, with more free time. This endlessly pretty debut feels like an amalgam of every strain of stoned, dreamy, indie-approved music since the 1960s, whether made on guitars or computers — everything from the druggy languor of the Velvet Underground to the woozy, hypnotic loops and tickly high-hats of the Field, with a very heavy dose of shoegazing and dream-pop tricks from the blissed-out 1990s. Sighing vocals, draggy tempos, washes of reverb; this is stuff you listen to with eyes closed, whether you're filing it next to Pygmalion or Panda Bear.
But it's not exactly what you'd expect from that, mostly because Cox still provides the same messiness and blurting self-exposure that's all over his public persona. These tales of unrequited love have barbs of discomfort in them, and their sound isn't a pristine, precise kind of dreaminess — they feel a little degraded, like they're coming out of a basement with a fine layer of grit covering the equipment. When Cox is building from classic pop structures, like on "River Card," that grit helps him hit peaks; when he's just slinking through his own fascinating loops, like on "Cold as Ice," it makes for gorgeous plateaus; and when he's zoning out into ambience and drones, like on "Ready Set Glow," it creates the kind of valleys you can laze around in for a while before you've found everything there is to find.
What's remarkable, for a project put together during breaks from a very busy rock band, is that it really never bores: most every guitar swell and synth pad has something to it, and moves along before you can figure out quite what that something is.