Review by Katherine Long
Early September 2013. Seattle. Gathering evening. Damp grass. Damp spirits.
Deerhunter is late.
Whatever, be cool.
Sky fades to dog’s-yawn blue, you know, black-blue of new school tights. Puget Sound blue.
Five feet away are three teensy thirteenie roller derby girls. We say to each other: Start a mosh pit. Yes, yes, let’s.
Deerhunter still late.
I have spent the summer lifting commas and adding semicolons as an editing assistant in a think tank. The longer Deerhunter does not show the more I am irked by how much I wasted my June, July and August. It is the last day of Bumbershoot – who else is playing right now? Alt-J? Bassnectar? MGMT? Screw it, no let’s do it, no screw it. We’ll stay here.
Deerhunter is now very late.
Deerhunter’s most recent project, the nine-track Fading Frontier, which debuted Friday Oct. 16 via 4AD, embodies almost none of that show’s brooding and all-consumed pissed-off. This new effort plays up the pop-friendly threads running through Deerhunter’s corpus, but that have usually been overshadowed by Cox’s minimalist and minor-key tendencies.
With seven albums and two EPs, Deerhunter have been one of the most lauded and prolific recording artists of the past decade. 2010’s ambitious Halcyon Digest made room for aesthetics ranging from the upbeat synth-pop of “Helicopter” to the gloaming, itchy dream of “Earthquake.” In Fading Frontier, the balance is tilted distinctly in favor of the former.
On “Leather and Wood” and “Carrion,” under which Cox’s achey little vocal pirouettes and growls glimmer and whirl under bassist Josh Fauver’s minimalist, eardrum-bursting lines. This is the Deerhunter we’re familiar with. But the album’s stand-out is “Ad Astra.” From its eerie opening to the restrained energy of its chorus, this is a track that begs to be flailed along to.
The album’s greatest strength is its evenness of effort, so that even hyped singles like “Snakeskin” and “Breaker” – bearing imprints of (oh gosh, I can’t believe I’m writing this in relation to Deerhunter) Vampire Weekend and The Postal Service, respectively, in their chunky rhythm guitar and shimmery synth – don’t stand head and shoulders over the more understated “Living My Life,” “Duplex Planet,” and “Take Care” (my favorite track on the album).
Bradford Cox, a rattling tower of bones, finally struts onstage. His hair has colonized the upper two-thirds of his face. Maybe it’s a wig. Maybe it’s a small animal. There is so much hair.
Deerhunter plays a set by turns desultory, by turns vehemently disinterested.
Roller derby girlies give up trying to rock. Even the usual suspects give up trying to rock. 4’7” Hairy McDaniel -- not his real name, but a very hairy-chested man in a kilt with whom I have rocked out at many ‘Shoots past and present – gives up trying to rock.
It is sad.
Cox yells at the audience sometimes. He thinks we are too sad.
Sad, sad sad. Who’s too sad?
I could leave or I could stay
Wouldn't matter much to me
Much to me
(“All the Same,” Fading Frontier)
Cox’s lyrics tend to toe the line of a very specific tenor of ambivalent loneliness. He’s told interviewers he hates writing lyrics. His writing on this album squirrels itself away into the usual spirals of sweet, nostalgic apathy. Like always, it’s a tender thing to listen to.
Deerhunter, for all their infamy as spotty live performers, have proved yet again their prowess in the studio. Fading Frontier is one of those albums that gets better and better with each refulgent headphone listen.
I just can’t recommend you go to the next show.