When Cuckoo Chaos announced late last year that their time was coming to an end, it seemed like more of a symbolic end than anything. The five musicians in the band would continue performing together, just under a different name: Deadphones. It wouldn't be the first time a group went through the trouble of changing its name, either: The Grateful Dead used to be The Warlocks, and Red Hot Chili Peppers started out as Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, just to throw out two examples.
Even during Cuckoo Chaos' last year, however, they seemed like an entirely different band. In their live shows, they increasingly distanced themselves from older songs, instead favoring a denser, darker sound that harbored only a trace of the Caribbean-influenced indie pop of their sole album release, Woman. The group's commitment to a new sound and direction is on display on Deadphones' self-titled debut album, a taut yet atmospheric set of eclectic dream-pop that slinks in shadows rather than frolics in sunlight.
As good a band as Cuckoo Chaos was, Deadphones is better. Yet rather than sounding like an entirely separate entity, this is almost like the yang to Cuckoo Chaos' yin—the evil twin, the bad cop. And damned if it isn't fun to hear the group explore more spacious and sinister grooves, often presented in subtler ways. The album's first song, "On Being a Psycho," eases in slowly with a sparse bass line and gently lilting guitar licks, only to jab you with a boom of percussion and handclaps. It hits unexpectedly, effectively ratcheting up what was an already-tense atmosphere.
"Somnambulator" billows and drifts with space-age synth sounds while building into a tropical shoegaze sound that feels more like an extension of the group's past material than anything else here. The group adds some dramatic flourishes of piano on "Do I," trippy vocal effects on "Skinless" and simply some of their best hooks yet on "Pictures."
Given the sophistication and intricacy of Deadphones' first outing, it occurs to me that there's a much simpler way of looking at the band: This is what Cuckoo Chaos sounds like grown up.