At last, new Deerhunter! With their seventh album, the band have taken a fairly accessible approach, crafting songs with a strong melodic thrust and clear production. Lovely stuff. But they can’t hide their inherent weirdnesses entirely: Fading Frontiers is full of the odd little touches that make this band so special. On 4AD.
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So the story goes: this is Deerhunter’s “nice” record, the one where the rock’s all radio, where Bradford Cox says it “sounds like INXS” and it’s more than just a flippant soundbyte. Kindly synths dip in and out of “Living My Life”, kindred spirits finally duet on “Breaker”, and the fiery rock songs -- “All The Same”, in this case -- just fade out, unaware they were ever here to stand for anything. Keep it chill; there’s nothing to panic about.
This isn’t telling the whole story about who Deerhunter have been, of course: who would argue that their past decade of existence hasn’t been a nice kind of swell? On ‘Cryptograms’, Cox penned “Strange Lights”, a simple and lush ode to bandmate Lockett Pundt that’s as sweet as a Beach House love song; ‘Microcastle’, at its time of release, was considered a gorgeous ‘50s-60s pop ode; ‘Halcyon Digest’ was a chance for Cox to make freewheeling indie rock; ‘Monomania’ is a testament to any and all (post/proto/cow)-punk. For the past decade, Cox has proved himself an incredible songwriter off the back of just indulging himself in his favourite genres. ‘Fading Frontier’ is that but shorter and less developed, the tension cut off like an excess, suggesting he doesn’t need to prove himself to his peers anymore -- he just needs to treat himself.
As such, ‘Fading Frontier’ might feel like an underperformance at first: closer “Carion” has a melody that sounds put over tracing paper, while Cox’s verses in “Breaker” seem to carelessly tail off into Pundt’s chorus lead. “Living My Life” uses the most simplistic of lyrical motifs to the point where you wonder if they’ve left some content behind. It’s easy and weightless, but there’s a reason Real Estate and Mac DeMarco might come to mind at first: it sounds like the responsibility to make a record never even existed.
In a recent interview, Cox told his unfortunate recipient that ‘Fading Frontier’ was themeless, that he’d put little thought into what it means overall, and that we have a propensity to see genius in him where we shouldn’t. I’ll contest him on the first point, at the very least: while this record may seem disjointed and airy at first, it seems to battle with those oldest of philosophical themes: living and dying. He says “I’m living my life” over quickly calibrated synth-pop until it maybe feels true, while the celestial riffs of “Breaker” accompany affirmations of “I’m alive”, along with harsher end-game admissions -- “When I die, there will be nothing to say / except I tried”. And then there’s this one line that feels caught between those two ideas, bringing to mind those times you spend thinking about death for so long life begins to feel like its waiting room: “I don’t ever want to go back again to the old folk’s home”. Suitably, it comes on “Duplex Planet”, nearing the record’s midway point.
These lyrics haven’t got much on the aloof mythos of earlier Deerhunter numbers, but Cox’s junior existentialism is touching, and makes these songs that little bit more beautiful. It’s the second half of proceedings where Cox seems to genuinely let go, though: “Snakeskin” sounds like an old-school rock band, all slick trick of the tales and meandering jams, while “Take Care” beams down synths over tapes and weird horror stories before a booming Coldplay chorus takes over.
Considering it’s their shortest record, ‘Fading Frontier’ drifts more than ever, toying with the idea of finally giving in to pop but never quite doing so.
9/10 James McKenzie 14th October 2015
Five years is a long time in our rapidly shifting internet assisted times. My musical tastes have splintered off in million different directions since Deerhunter last caught my imagination with 2010's 'Hacylon Digest'. However this latest reincarnation of Bradford Cox and the gang has got me all confused and giddy with excitement. Content in the knowledge I'd hammered the final nail in a box containing 00's high watermarks 'Cryptograms', 'Microcastle/Weird Era Cont', plus the 'Fluorescent Grey' & Rainwater Cassette Exchange' EPs, excellent first Lotus Plaza LP as well as Atlas Sound's knockout 'Logos' and 'Parralax' a fantastic run of releases culminating in the kaleidoscopic 'Hacylon Digest' with which they confirmed their place as one of my favourite bands of recent times. But then came 'Monomania' a garage rock pastiche that did little to reinforce what had come before and as such passed me by and made it easier for the imaginary box to be stored away... a mere capsule in time.
So where do Deerhunter fit into the musical landscape in 2015. Simply by releasing for me one of the pop highlights of the year. Just a pure joy to the ears and senses in much the same way Real Estate's 'Atlas' did the trick last year. Clean as a whistle pop nuggets that sparkle with a clarity that I certainly wasn't expecting to hear again after 'Monomania'. Just listen how towards the end of 'Breaker' the track bursts back into life awash with colour that you can almost touch. Teaming up with '...Digest' producer Ben H. Allen who brings out the best in all the contributing players, this feels like a full on band effort, a match made in heaven and a real return to form. Members of Stereolab and Broadcast make an appearance to add a touch of class to proceedings. At 35 minutes short the album is full of highlights each one worthy of its place and a desire to trim the fat has certainly proved a masterstroke. 'Leather and Wood' channeling classic Atlas Sound and providing a perfect counterweight and darkness midway through. The album finishing as strongly as it started with the spaced out bliss of 'Ad Astra' and Carrion's' dreamy waltz cementing the LPs early promise of a place in the upper echelons of Cox and Co's cannon.
Sure we all would love to see a return to the lo-fi shoegazing majesty of 'Cryptograms' but the band is almost a decade older, wiser and on this evidence more musically accomplished and although this album may lack the edge of the 2007 version of Deerhunter I for one don't want to see a watered down version of that. I caught the band on the tail end of the '...Digest' tour and it was one of the best gigs i've been to they really locked in that night with the histrionics left in the changing room. I can imagine this collection of songs really coming to life when performed live all beefed up and extended (ooo-er). I'll have to wait for the that however, in the mean time i'm gonna crank this fucker up and watch it shimmer.
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