Deerhunter are never content to make the same album twice. Ever hard to pin down to one particular genre, the Atlanta quartet have drawn upon disparate influences from indie rock, punk, psychedelia, dream pop and beyond. After the garage rock feel of their last effort, Monomania, Deerhunter here return to a sound closer to the feel of 2010’s excellent Halcyon Digest.
Make no mistake, this is Deerhunter’s poppiest album to date. Things start off approachable with the fantastic jangle-pop of the opening three tracks. Here, the influence of ‘80s indie bands like R.E.M. is palpable. The second track ‘Living My Life’ is the catchiest on the record – its simple and repetitive refrain of “I’m living my life” will surely be rattling around listeners’ heads for days on end. Track three, ‘Breaker’, is another great pop tune, featuring a plodding bassline, duelling chorus vocals and a guitar melody that sounds eerily like background music from Spongebob Squarepants – this can, of course, only be a good thing. ‘Snakeskin’ is something of an outlier musically and therefore is a misleading first single; those who heard the single upon the album’s announcement and expected an LP full of riffy crowd pleasers may be let down. Brash and immediate, it’s perhaps the closest Deerhunter have come to making a danceable song, and could even be considered radio-friendly if it weren’t for the trippy instrumental breakdown that, in typical Deerhunter fashion, takes up the final two minutes of the track. The song also features some of the album’s best lyrics, frontman Bradford Cox starting off proceedings with the morbid couplet “I was born already nailed to the cross / I was born with a feeling, I was lost”. His lyrics across the record are clearly influenced by the serious injuries he obtained in a December 2014 car crash – Cox himself has acknowledged that the accident was something of a turning point for him.
A great pop tune, featuring a plodding bassline, duelling chorus vocals and a guitar melody that sounds eerily like background music from Spongebob Squarepants
This pop approach and accommodation of melody may startle some long-time Deerhunter fans used to the group’s trademark experimentation, but they need not worry. The music is still fundamentally ‘Deerhunter’: dreamy, textured, and an amalgamation of a multitude of styles. Nowhere is this more present than in album highlight ‘Take Care’: a song that starts off serene and continues to build and build to a stunning crescendo with frantic drums, an evolving guitar solo and layers of spacey synths. It never feels self-indulgent for a moment, instead representing what Deerhunter does best. The song ranks alongside the similarly-sprawling older tracks ‘Desire Lines’ and ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ as the best in their career.
The next track, ‘Leather and Wood’ – very much the calm after the storm that was ‘Take Care’ – is the most stripped-down track on the LP. Driven by a sparse piano melody, the song is also the most experimental on the album, featuring all manner of strange and jarring atonal sound effects. The penultimate track ‘Ad Astra’ is notable for featuring the first ever duet between Cox and lead guitarist Lockett Pundt. The song boasts an atmospheric synth theme and offers a slice of nostalgia in its emulation of the analogue feel that characterised ‘80s synth-pop. The album could be faulted for its brief length of nine tracks – and tracks like ‘Duplex Planet’ and the closer, ‘Carrion’ are less dynamic than the other tracks, yet these are minor complaints.
Fading Frontier, then, is a welcome new entry into Deerhunter’s already stellar catalogue of music. Cox and co. deftly tread the fine line between accessibility and experimentation. In doing so, they will hopefully gain a whole host of new fans enticed by the melodic delights of the album’s first half (and ‘Snakeskin’). But, crucially, they have retained the idiosyncrasies that gained them fans in the first place.