Release Date: Oct 16, 2015
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Dream Pop, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock
Musically, there’s not much connective tissue between Deerhunter’s seventh album and its predecessor, 2013’s caustic, itchy-skinned ‘Monomania’, but they do have one important thing in common: both were inspired, or at least overshadowed, by traumatic events in Bradford Cox’s personal life. The Atlanta quartet have always been a more democratic entity than their frontman’s outsized personality might make them appear, but inevitably, it’s Cox’s whims, wonts and occasional psychoses that their music takes shape around. Maybe that’s why ‘Fading Frontier’ – the most direct, unflinching album Deerhunter have ever made, and quite possibly the best – sometimes feels like the second part of a duology about breakdown and recovery, not only from the psychodrama of ‘Monomania’, but from the car accident Cox was hospitalised by last December.
Near the outset of Deerhunter’s inspiring and surprisingly triumphant seventh album, Bradford Cox interjects with a “sh-sh-sh-sh, yeah. ” What he sings next would be worth hushing for: “You should take your handicaps / Channel them and feed them back / Till they become your strengths. ” Two-thirds of the way through the same song, “All the Same,” the unexpected advice follows verses describing home as both a road-like “anywhere” and an AC-chilled physical space, along with a brief aside about a friend’s dad who “changed his sex.
The horrific accident that nearly killed Bradford Cox has clearly changed his outlook, and by extension, the music of Deerhunter. Gone is the gnashing of teeth and the back of the throat growl. Cox's vocals often sounded as though they were squeezing out the last of the tube. Any concern, however, over the effects this newfound calm would have on Deerhunter quickly fade when listening to the phenomenal Fading Frontier, which is both a giant step sideways and a giant step forward.
You could be the kind of person who complains about Bradford Cox making a comfortable-sounding record, but ask why you’d want to be first. Yes, Fading Frontier is a far cry from the garage rock restructuring he brought to Deerhunter with Monomania. Instead, it’s back to the dreamy textures of Microcastle and Halcyon Digest, but this time around, the dreams are even more pleasant than before.
A Deerhunter album rollout usually coincides with some pithy and provocative statements from Bradford Cox on pop culture. He sort of obliged on Fading Frontier, calling most modern pop music "totally unredeemable" in an interview. But other than that, he seemed serene: "Fifteen years I spent proving myself," he mused in that same piece. "The only reason for me to make a record now is to make the record." Accordingly, after the grotty, pissed-off Monomania and Cox's catastrophic car accident comes Deerhunter's most content, warm and plainspoken work to date.
Review Summary: Quite possibly Deerhunter's most accessible album to date.Having left behind the brooding and sonically untamed demeanour that warped Monomania into their most unapologetically abrasive listen since their debut, Deerhunter steer ahead into creative territory that is… well, the exact opposite of all that in Fading Frontier. This album meanders about in calmer, yet familiar waters; it revisits the same mindset that inspired Microcastle, Rainwater Cassette Exchange, and (to an extent) Halcyon Digest and yearns to arrive to something that is equally as enveloping, ethereal, and accessible. This is an exercise in refining existing sounds rather than ingenuity.
It’s difficult to start anywhere else but with Bradford Cox’s 2014 car crash when it comes to Deerhunter’s seventh album ‘Fading Frontier’. With every record he fronts, Cox is a magnetic figure. He’ll either be the ravaged rock icon of ‘Monomania’ or the dizzying leader of weird from ‘Cryptograms’ and ‘Weird Era Cont.’ This time, there’s a potentially life-altering story leading the way.
At one point on Fading Frontier, Bradford Cox sings "Take your handicaps/Channel them and feed them back/Until they become your strengths." It's a phrase that could be Deerhunter's motto; they've always excelled at celebrating misfit people and feelings, and never more so than on this album. Recorded in the wake of the accident that hospitalized Cox in December 2014, in some ways it feels like the band hit the reset button on Fading Frontier, which is as different from Monomania as that album was from what came before it. Aside from the slinky, disco-tinged outburst "Snakeskin," which could be the last remnant of Monomania's toughness, Fading Frontier hews closer to the sound the band forged on Microcastle and Halcyon Digest.
Where most artists exhaust their gut instincts on their first record, Bradford Cox and Deerhunter seem to operate on nothing but. If their last, fifth album Monomania was a seething, raucous affair powered by what Cox has described as ‘a deep period of passionate rage’, the band’s sixth set, Fading Frontier, is its inversion, a retreat from those tumultuous times, one brought on by a car accident Cox suffered last year that left him a semi-recluse on antidepressants, feeling like ‘I have no sexuality left’. What’s remarkable about a band that often seem to merely be a sonic extension of its frontman’s id is how unlike, say, The Fall, Deerhunter always feel like contenders, only ‘cult’ because Cox’s unpredictable instincts have never driven them towards the big time.
His media persona is predicated on a certain gobby obnoxiousness, but it’s still hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for Bradford Cox. In recent years, he has seemed incapable of making an album without being spurred by some personal tragedy. Deerhunter’s 2010 album Halcyon Digest and Cox’s 2011 album Parallax, under his Atlas Sound alias, were each inspired by the deaths of close friends – Memphis singer-songwriter Jay Reatard and Broadcast’s Trish Keenan.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. At many points along Deerhunter's path, there was no hope for Bradford Cox. His band built an unconscious world and softened the blows of isolation and meaninglessness inside of it. Cryptograms, in particular, put miles between struggle and happiness, making it easier to observe and understand each.
Now 10 years into their lifespan, it’s fair to say Deerhunter have skated from sound to sound, with their last album, 2013’s Monomania, taking a roughly hewn garage as its loose core. But a wonderful balance seems restored on Fading Frontier, on which texture and a lightness of touch is evident and resplendent throughout. Even on the dirtier – and, dare we say it, groovier – tracks, particularly lead single Snakeskin, or the delicious, slow plod of Leather And Wood, there’s a clarity that even the tape loops of Broadcast’s James Cargill, or the harpsichord of Stereolab’s Tim Gane can’t obscure.
Deerhunter can be difficult to pin down, never telegraphing their punches. They proudly bear the garage rock stamp, sure, but a song like “Memory Boy”, from 2010’s spectacularly colorful Halcyon Digest, is something else entirely: noise rock converging with baroque pop. Deerhunter compositions are often prisms of psychedelic and ambient noise, but sometimes they have shoegaze tints, too.
For all their nonthreatening and unassuming familiarity, the 14-year-old Deerhunter are a hard band to pin down. In a recent “batshit” interview, Bradford Cox confirmed this when he declared, “It all just comes from nowhere,” confounding our hopes that his band’s music could be encapsulated in a few neat and tidy epigraphs. At first glance, the trajectory that the Georgian four-piece have traced seems to corroborate his avowals of creative nihilism and unconsciousness: verging from the “ambient punk” days of Cryptograms to the heady shoegazing of Microcastle and the “nocturnal garage” of Monomania, their wayward and unpredictable turns have frustrated the notion that Cox, Pundt, McKay, and Archuleta are following a single unified vision and executing a single unified plan.
Deerhunter return with less angst and urgency on new album, Fading Frontier, yet their music stays immediate and their lyrics visceral. There is a feeling resembling contentment on this album, at least musically. Lead singer Bradford Cox, who was hospitalized after being hit by a car late last year; he gets existential on "Living My Life," questioning why he chases the now "fading frontier" over gentle, burbling synth-pop structures.
When Deerhunter released their second album, Cryptograms, back in 2007, they didn’t sound like a band built for longevity. A coruscating blend of shoegaze, ambient and krautrock, the album sounded constantly on the brink of collapse; any melody that emerged from the sonic sludge was swiftly snuffed out. But then came the follow-up, 2008’s Microcastle, which represented a quality leap comparable to that carried off by Radiohead between Pablo Honey and The Bends, or by Nirvana between Bleach and Nevermind.
"I'm off the grid/I'm out of range," Deerhunter's Bradford Cox sings on his band's seventh record. Agreed: No one spaces out like these Atlanta shoegazers and masters of distracted guitar poesy. Fading Frontier follows 2013's dark-hued Monomania with a brighter, freer dream rock. It's their most eclectic album, from the pacific Sixties psych drift of "Duplex Planet" to the slurry, Blur-y "Snakeskin" to the warm synth-pop ooze of "Take Care," where Cox, who recently survived a serious car accident, advises, "Raise your crippled hand." The elliptically pretty music often summons a sense of escape and freedom that's ringed with ambiguity.
Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox has spoken in recent interviews about feeling “outside of society” since a serious car crash last year. Any effect that’s had on his band isn’t immediately obvious: opener All the Same reprises the “dark garage” sounds of 2013’s Monomania. But delve deeper and Fading Frontier reveals itself to be more complex, and more unpredictable.
Shortly before Deerhunter’s seventh full-length, Fading Frontier, leaked, I was engaged in an online conversation about Deerhunter that concluded with me asserting that they are the most consistently excellent and all-around best American band of the 2000s, a belief I hold in real life as well. Hearing first single “Snakeskin” for the first time put a small dent in my faith, something which listening to Fading Frontier in full did little to repair. This has nothing to do with the touted accessibility of the record; Deerhunter deserve to be the biggest band in the world, or at the very least bigger than Tame Impala.
In 2013, Atlanta-based indie-rock act Deerhunter released its sixth studio album, Monomania, a work that left many scratching their heads. In ways both sonic and thematic, it was a significant and ragged left turn away from the shimmering, frizzy sounds that marked the group’s masterful mid-career releases Microcastle (2008) and Halcyon Digest (2010). Subsequent profiles and interviews have revealed that the band’s members, and frontman Bradford Cox in particular, were dealing with a number of emotionally unsettled issues, and the music from that time certainly reflects that.
After seven years in the indie rock public eye, when Deerhunter's Bradford Cox calmly repeats, "I'm living my life" for 30 seconds straight, it feels like a declaration. The enigmatic songwriter sounds at ease on seventh album Fading Frontier, especially compared to the harsh grittiness of 2013's Monomania. In fact, on Leather And Wood, one of the quietest tracks, Cox croons, "I believe we will find that elusive peace" before the song devolves into an anti-noisy breakdown where Cox's voice fades in and out over a clunky, alien-like synth line.
Retreating from the prospect of becoming a great rock & roll band, Deerhunter have returned to tasteful pop-shoegaze mode and made their mellowest, most lyric-driven, most calculated…and, err, most cheesiest album. Best Beach House record of 2015! Before we get to what’s good here, let’s agree up top: save for Bradford Cox’s voice, you’d have to work pretty hard to convince yourself there’s anything original in Deerhunter’s music, and lord knows many have tried. Spin it how you want, but their music basically fits neatly into the American indie-rock model that’s been standard since R.E.M.: smart young white guitar people of modest ambitions layering tasteful fragments of gathered ideas in on each other.
Turning thirty years old is an often dreaded milestone. In theory, it can seem like a sudden, brutal end to youth. For most however, the reality of living in your thirties is thankfully much less excruciating. The conventional wisdom is that with time and experience comes a greater understanding of your surroundings and yourself.