Release Date: Jan 18, 2019
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Art Rock
They have everything a modern rock band needs to hold and sustain mainstream appeal in 2019, and have had it since they released their debut in 2005. But for some reason, they've always fallen just short of breaking through into the big leagues in the way that many of their contemporaries have. They have a charismatic, borderline-pretentious mouthpiece of a singer in Bradford Cox , so perhaps people find him abrasive rather than endearing? They have, by the last count and depending on who you ask, released at least three masterpieces - perhaps their critical acclaim is offputting? Their sound, at once instantly recognisable but always different, is deftly constructed and elegantly executed - maybe they're too "arty" for the layman? Whatever the reason, Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, their first LP since 2015, is a step in the opposite direction.
If you have been watching Deerhunter on Instagram you know that whenever the mood strikes, frontman Bradford Cox just starts streaming wherever he is. It could be at a sound-check before a show, where they just debuted a new song they wrote in Japan, or it could be them working out lyrics, driving to the studio, him jamming remotely with complete strangers, or recording their newest album. Work presented as distraction, or more appropriately, distraction presented as liberation.
A quick scan of Deerhunter's body of work -- which includes album and song titles like Fading Frontier and "Memory Boy" -- serves as a reminder that the fleeting nature of life is something that has fascinated Bradford Cox and company for years. Until the band's eighth album, these meditations on ephemerality were deeply personal. On Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, Cox looks at the world around him with the same intensity that he used to examine his own life on earlier albums.
While it's difficult to look at the works of Deerhunter and say with conviction that they ever exactly had a commercial phase, I think it's at least accurate to say that eighth outing Why Hasn't Everything Disappeared Already? sees the band a very, very long way away from the ambient punk sound that made their name. It's a clutch of odd songs, made odder by the circumstances and symbolism that have been layered on them. Aside from the striking name and the written commentary (more of which later), the band retreated to the obscure, deserted Texan desert city of Marfa alongside a series of co-producers including Cate le Bon and Ben H Allen and created a record both oblique and accessible.
During their 18 year tenure, Deerhunter have taken a deconstructionist approach to their art. It might seem as if the Atlanta indie rock band had abandoned the gleaming abstractions of their early work for impeccably crafted pop music, but doing so was as much of an experiment as it was their more challenging work. After what many believe to be their creative apex, from 2010's Halycon Days to frontman Bradford Cox's solo efforts as Atlas Sound, they began to structure their albums with a more genre-specific template.
By 2015, Bradford Cox had grown weary of the nostalgia that suffused Deerhunter's early records. "When I was young, foggy nostalgia was such a part of my shtick. That pink haze of nostalgia and boyhood," he said in an interview before the release of the band's seventh LP, Fading Frontier. "Now I just wanna be around adults...
The premise for Deerhunter's eighth album is laid out seconds into first single 'Death In Midsummer'. "Come on down from from that cloud and cast your fears aside," sings Bradford Cox over delicate harpsichord, introducing an album that deals in escapism. Lyrically, the record far from ignores problems at hand - 'What Happens To People?' is an existential mulling over of life and death, much like the album's title - but it's set out over luscious, bright instrumentation that feels more suitable for a road trip, free of inhibitions.
The National turned art-pop into a commercial force. With their eighth album, Deerhunter may have done the same - and 'Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?' is arguably their answer to David Bowie's 'Low' The slow-burn success of The National must be dark music indeed to the ears of Bradford Cox. It's proof that, with the age of the alt-rock hit single behind us, art-rock bands can still build a crossover cult army over numerous albums of esoteric character and no little challenge.
The Lowdown: On Deerhunter's eighth album and first since 2015's Fading Frontier, Bradford Cox turns his gaze towards the horizon, surveying a ravaged environment and vanishing landscapes. Recorded in Marfa, TX, with Cate Le Bon, Ben Etter, and longtime co-producer Ben H. Allen III, Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? reflects the desert it was created in.
There's no question that Deerhunter are deep thinkers. The title of this, the band's eighth effort, makes that point perfectly clear. The implications dig below the surface, probing questions about the very essence of life itself during an age where nihilism runs rampant and there's a disconnect practically everywhere -- from reality, from compassion, from other individuals.
Do we miss the days when Deerhunter specialized in music from a pedal board instead of a studio? Remember how you could show someone an interview with the band and have them hooked right away? How about those shows in the summer of 2011, with our feet in the sand, watching Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt sweat like crazy on the band's extensive festival tour? These were Deerhunter's halcyon days where the reviews were the highest and the band were unstoppable. But are those memories as good as we remember them? Did the band soak in every bit of praise and success that its fans did? Does Cox even like 2010's Halcyon Digest? He wasn't even present when 'Desire Lines', his favorite cut from the album, was recorded. Already our memory is altered by the finer details.
With their last album 'Fading Frontier', Deerhunter found themselves at their most accessible to date. Now with 'Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?' - and all clichés aside - this was a mere stepping-stone for even greater things to come. From the rich harpsichords on 'Death In Midsummer', to the luscious instrumentation on 'What Happens To People?' and 'Plains', Deerhunter sound absolutely fantastic production-wise.
"Come on down from that cloud / And cast your fears aside," urges Bradford Cox in the opening bars of the new album from indie beloveds Deerhunter. Gently, dreamily, and with a slight baroque flourish (he is singing over harpsichord - played by fellow winner of alternative hearts Cate Le Bon, no less) we are coaxed into Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, the band's eighth album. Cox continues: "You're all here / And there's nothing inside / May God's will be done / In these poisoned hills." His self-penned linernotes disclose that the song's title - 'Death In Midsummer' - is taken from the caption of a Russian Revolution-era photo he found in a book, depicting people running from piles of dead bodies.
T he eighth album by Deerhunter comes with a lot of words attached, of varying degrees of usefulness. There is a prose poem by frontman Bradford Cox every bit as incomprehensible as the stuff Bob Dylan used to append to the back covers of his 60s albums, evidently written while Dylan was speeding his nuts off. There are simple descriptors of the themes in each song: genuinely illuminating when dealing with a writer such as Cox, whose lyrics are famously made up on the spot, stream-of-consciousness style.
Assume Form by James Blake: love songs from the cold. (Polydor) Hushed, expressive vocal performances have become increasingly key to James Blake’s art, just as his signature sound, his cold, sculptural minimalism, has become rote in the time of Drake. Assume Form, despite the handsome ghost-of-a-smile on the LP sleeve, doesn’t introduce a more colorful palette for Blake.