Fire Note Says: Rock’s last great hope? Deerhunter makes a strong case on their eighth full-length.
Album Review: Deerhunter saves the world! Wouldn’t that be nice? All the ragged dreams of a future in which guitar-driven rock music rules the airwaves rest on the shoulders of just a few daring artists. Bradford Cox and his gang are among them. They may have toned down the guitars a bit versus past recordings but unlike so may Indie bands who have almost completely eschewed the instrument (Metric, Wye Oak) Deerhunter will not be swayed by all the EDM in the world. They are a rock band. But beyond that they are a particularly squirrelly band to pin down. Ambient sounds rub elbows with Krautrock, jangly power pop gives way to bouts psychedelic catharsis. Just how relevant any of this is in 2019 is hard to say. But we need a champion (damn it) and any band that predates the turn of the century need not apply. This fight is too important for the oldies crowd. We need fresh voices.
Deerhunter has never been content to stay in one place for too long. That restless spirit beckons us to “Come on down off that cloud/And cast your fears aside” on the harpsichord-heavy opener “Death In Midsummer.” As the song builds up from its humble start there’s a jarring guitar solo that feels out of place, almost disoriented in its fuzz toned glory. Cox repeats “I walk around and I see what’s faded” at the end and one can’t help but recall the title of their last album: 2015’s brilliant Fading Frontiers. Also produced by Ben E. Allen, this new record has all the hallmarks of Allen’s craft but without the watery, aquatic effects. Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is more earthbound. As if aware of this shift there’s even a song called “Elemental”. This is supposed to be a sci-fi story about the present but it plays out exactly as the band’s press release tells us how not to relate to it: The Kinks record with Bowie in 1977 Berlin. If that sounds good to you (oh, it does for me!) then this might be your thing.
As appealing as side one is, the back end of Disappeared is much moodier as befits any honest observation of the current state of the world. Spoken word and glacial synths greet us with the bizarre “Detournement.” Things pick up with the breezy, hook-laden next track, “Futurism”, but get very messy thereafter. The one and only Lockett Pundt song (“Tarnung”) is more Peter Gabriel than Lotus Plaza. And this is strange as we can usually count on a couple straight forward Pundt tunes to offset whatever drug-free trip Cox is on. The second single, “Plains”, slides in with a Vampire Weekend, world beat kind of thing. Being that the album was partially recorded in Marfa, Texas the images of open spaces and James Dean hover overhead. It’s a solid tune and, perhaps, points to some new territory for the band to explore down the road.
Whatever these guys choose to do it is clear that Deerhunter has a special magic that car accidents, the hype machine and untimely deaths cannot derail. This may not be their best LP (I would opt for Microcastle personally) but it is certainly up for debate. Everything that makes them such an exciting band is present and accounted for (cue amp drop!) They’ve just cleaned themselves up a little. Cox has stated that he’s done with his side project, Atlas Sound, for a while to concentrate solely on band music only. That’s good news. Another three years between albums could be disastrous – rock could well and truly be dead by then.
Key Tracks: “Death In Midsummer” / “What Happens To People” / “Futurism”
Artists With Similar Fire: Animal Collective / Liars / Real Estate
– Reviewed by Scot Lade