Deerhunter have clearly reached their pop faze but only time will tell if they can make the breakthrough that has thus far eluded them
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Their eighth full-length to date, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? comes a decade after Deerhunter released back-to-back modern classics in the form of 2008’s double album Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. and 2010’s Halcyon Digest. Led by their enigmatic and unpredictable vocalist Bradford Cox, the Atlanta art rockers have been one of the most interesting and consistent bands of the last fifteen years. True to form, they’ve produced yet another solid album while continuing to evolve their sound.
Cox’s lyrics shift away from the more personal themes heard on their last two albums, 2013’s partly garage rock-inspired Monomania and the emotive pop of 2015’s Fading Frontier. Turning his attention towards the wider world, he takes inspiration from both current and past events including digital culture, short attention spans, impending environmental doom, the rebirth of nationalism, the Russian Revolution and James Dean’s experience filming Giant in Marfa, West Texas.
Given the lyrical content and Cox’s melancholic perspective, his vocals are typically downbeat but are juxtaposed against some of the most chipper Deerhunter arrangements heard to date. Opener ‘Death In Midsummer’ features Cate Le Bon on harpsichord (one of four producers credited including long-time producer Ben H. Allen), while Cox ruminates about people who work their whole lives then “just fade away” and how one day “you will see your own life fade away” too.
In addition to harpsichord the sax also shows up on a couple of tracks, most notably on ‘No One’s Sleeping’ (influenced by the 2016 assassination of British MP Jo Cox by a far-right nationalist). It features a subtle nod to The Kinks as well as the synths that are reminiscent of Camel’s 1976 masterpiece Moonmadness. More 1970s-influenced sounds can be heard on the early instrumental interlude ‘Greenpoint Gothic’ which hints strongly at David Bowie’s Low. The dreamy, piano-led lament ‘What Happens To People?’ is another stand-out moment, bringing an excellent first half to a close.
The second half of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? sees Deerhunter experimenting a little more but with mixed results. ‘Détournement’ is strange and derails the album somewhat, featuring warped spoken word vocals offering greetings from various places around the world. While ‘Tarnung’ with its xylophones, woozy sax and backing vocals from Le Bon sees them exploring new territory to good effect and very different to anything we’ve heard from Deerhunter before.
At over six-minutes closer ‘Nocture’ is a track of two halves. The opening two-and-a-half-minutes featuring Cox drunk-singing down what sounds like a broken landline phone over a slow paced melody, before changing direction for the better as piano and synth take over. Other tracks on the second half continue in a similar vein to those heard on the first. ‘Futurism’ being the most straightforward piece here and could easily have been a lead single, while the Marfa-inspired ‘Plains’ blends new wave synths, funk and lively Afrobeat percussion. Deerhunter have clearly reached their pop faze but only time will tell if they can make the breakthrough that has thus far eluded them.
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is available now via 4AD