Review by Dave Raskin
Deerhunter is back with another full length, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?. Poring through the album’s lyrics, it’s not a bad question.
The album’s thematic content seems to be some of Deerhunter’s bleakest in recent years, though the feeling of the record is no less upbeat than much of their other work, and at times is much more so. Many of the lyrics seem to revolve around death, though Bradford Cox (the band’s primary lyricist) never seems to cast the spectre of eternal slumber as a villain. Cox seems to assume the perspective of an outsider looking at the obvious trials and tribulations of present-day humanity, and wonders why we would choose to continue living at all. With death such an easy out, why hasn’t everything already disappeared?
There are examples of this strange outlook throughout the album. The second track, “No One’s Sleeping,” is a high-energy, almost jolly track that wouldn’t feel out of place among some of the Beatle’s sillier, feel-good cuts. With a jovial, sing-songy delivery, Cox describes great violence and unrest in the country, ultimately inviting the listener to, “Follow me / To golden pond / There is peace / The great beyond.” The fourth track, “Elemental,” is similarly care-free in aesthetic, despite describing a deteriorating environment. Terrifying lines like, “Orange clouds laid out for a toxic view” and “There would come a time, radar flashed / Indoors we go” are delivered as if they were part of a nursery rhyme. Cox has always maintained that his lyrics flow from him effortlessly in a stream-of-consciousness style without much revision. Given the state of the country and the world in the later part of the 20-teens, it is unsurprising that themes of unrest, a deteriorating environment, and a longing for an end to the constant barrage of negativity are on the forefront of his mind. To my mind, however, it’s a bit disappointing that the aesthetic of the record does nothing to match these themes.
As Cox trucks ahead lyrically, the band seems to revert to old indie-rock habits that they helped popularize, which in turn, helped to popularize them as a band. In 2015, Fading Frontier, eschewed much of the contemplative sparseness that one often encounters on earlier records. That earlier album had also ditched a dreamy, electronic-inspired soundscape for the polished punk-rock-meets-thoughtful-sound-design aesthetic that defined much of Deerhunter’s career. As a result, this album is less dynamic than, say, 2010’s Halcyon Digest. Without room to breathe, none of the rock-styled riffs or vocal hooks feel as satisfying as they would have in the context of previous records. With some minor exceptions (the disconcerting, but somewhat clichéd, “Détournament” being the most striking example), you’re in for a smooth, steady ride from beginning to end. For an audience as tired and world-weary as Cox, a dose of smooth-and-steady might be just what what the doctor ordered. I, for one, would have preferred to hear music that reflects the reality they’re describing.
Recommended tracks: “Greenpoint Gothic," “What Happens to People”