Deerhunter isn’t caught in the headlights

Courtesy of 4AD
Courtesy of 4AD

 

Iconic indie-rock band Deerhunter recently released their seventh studio album in “Fading Frontier,” which is a departure from their previous work. In fact, it is strongly reminiscent of some of Wilco’s best work, like “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” or “Summerteeth” in the way it irreverently utilizes various different styles and effects of different genres, like pop and British shoegaze. “Fading Frontier” is a brilliant psychedelic pop album that departs from the harder edged garage rock of “Monomania” and “Halcyon Digest.” Perhaps the strongest element of this album is the way in which it subsumes genres and reconfigures them in bold new ways.

It opens with a synth sound that quickly introduces the beat. Rather than being layered over one another, the drums, rhythm guitar and bass all come in together, which rounds out the sound in full effect. The song is a little up-tempo, although the guitar is kinda looped into playing a scale. Cox sings, “I’m living my life” with his breathy vocals, which feels dissonant over the poppy instrumentation. This dissonance pervades the entire album, and is perhaps what resembles Wilco the most.

The track “Snakeskin,” which is on the latter half of the album, has a distinctly funk vibe too it that resembles the blues rock mashup of The Black Keys. With Bradford Cox opening up the track crooning, “I was born already nailed to the cross / I was born already feeling lost … / I was born with a snakelike walk.” While the lyrics evoke images of suffering, the instrumentation is smooth, and has an undeniable groove to it, making the lyrics sound almost ironic. This song is surprisingly one of the more fun tracks on the album, and is the lead single off the LP.

However, along with the amazing composition, “Fading Frontier” is just remarkably well-produced. For example, the track “Ad Astra” begins with a synth sound and a funky drumline, which is reinforced by the rhythm guitar. Another synth sound is layered on top with yet another synth layered over. These different voices work in harmony with each other while simultaneously creating a little discord between the instrumentation. The result is a jarring sensation. This effect is furthered by the syncopated synth and rhythm instruments. Overall, this track brilliantly evokes British shoegaze’s psychedelic vibes.

Many might disagree with my assessment, but I find this to be a near perfect album. The album has a strong, unified aesthetic which never comes across as overwrought. Moreover, many of the songs on this album are introspective, such as “Take Care,” which begins with a down tempo synth beat. The progressing beat creates a dreamy ambience due to the instrumentation’s continued down tempo beat. Cox croons “you might find / your place in this life” over this surreal soundscape. The lyrics are almost cryptic, such as, “There is no more than the fog from the dry ice burning / corpses turning.” These lyrics coupled with the downtempo atmosphere feel incredibly reflective and almost tragic, with many of these songs becoming reflections on mortality.

However, the album navigates these dense emotions perfectly, without ever piling on sentimentality. The song “Snakeskin” becomes a welcome break, but never actually loses the emotional power of the whole. This has been an incredible year in music, with many artists pushing out some of their best work in decades, such as Sufjan Stevens, Dr. Dre, and D’angelo, and I still think “Fading Frontier” may be one of the best albums of the year.

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

 

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