Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

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My relationship with Deerhunter has always slightly volatile; thinking Microcastle overrated before ultimately succumbing to its heady highlights; initial indifference to Halcyon Digest (other than “Helicopter”) before that album’s suburban tales grew on me as Arcade Fire’s similarly-themed album that same year grew off; writing off Monomania before realizing the nightmare pop (as opposed to dream pop) of “T.H.M.” was worth commending; thinking that their show in Toronto in 2013 was a waste of money before realizing I had a good time, all-in-all, etc. In contrast, Fading Frontier sounded like professionally-produced garbage when I first heard it, and that opinion has stayed the same through each listen. Yet, I should like Fading Frontier, since it’s more melody and lyric-driven than their predecessors (they started focussing on both more and more starting on Halcyon Digest, which I want to mention is composed of eleven distinct songs that lock together into a single, singular, daydreamy groove). This should be something like Sonic Youth’s Rather Ripped (and Monomania was Sonic Youth’s Dirty) but ends up more like Low’s C’mon, an album that was produced by a mega-popstar producer that exposed how worthless late-period Low’s melodies and lyrics were. And Ben Allen (Merriweather Post Pavilion, Zonoscope, Christina Aguilera) does the exact same here; I can go the rest of my life without hearing “Living My Life,” “Take Care” and “Carrion” again.

Some observations:

~A snippet, from an interview with Bradford Cox about the album, from The Observer:
Justin Joffe: You hear about all these old time indie rock dudes whose kids love her.

Bradford Cox: Well that’s why I decided to be gay, so I never have kids that love Taylor Swift.
~There are purists who get all worked up when their real-life friends change songs after the chorus of the last one. On “All the Same,” it doesn’t matter: the band just repeat the first half with new lyrics and a vocal idiosyncracy that Julian Casablancas did on “You Only Live Once” (“suh-suh-suh”) and then the song ends! No bridge; no climax: it’s rinse-and-repeat. And yet, this is the album’s best song! Now, the second half’s lyrics are better (“My friend’s dad got bored, changed his sex and had no more / No more wife, no more kids”; “You should take your handicaps, channel them and feed them back”) and the only time where Bradford Cox’s more-direct lyrics about blight and plight are worth repeating, so I listen to the song all the way through all the same (haha), but that sort of laziness is emblematic of the entire album.

~On that note, there are plenty of cases where lyrics juxtapose against opposite-sounding sonics and produce a gestalt. Some examples: Big Star’s tales of twisted love to sugar-melodies, especially on Radio City; Lou Reed’s “Transformer”, the Velvet Underground’s “Stephanie Says” and “Who Loves the Sun” (to name a few); tons of therapeutic dance songs from the 80s (“Mad World,” New Order’s best); Taylor Swift, etc. In contrast, the lyrics (all of them, about blight and plight) don’t mesh with their sterile environments. Maybe it’s because Bradford Cox’s lyrics are mostly vague (have always been mostly vague); maybe it’s because the narrator of “Carrion” (that you can tell exists only because Cox thought of the “Carry on” switch) is a fucking mole; maybe because Bradford Cox’s happiest lyrics and happiest songs (“I’m still alive / And that’s something / And when I die / There will be nothing to say”) are a farce. Remember “We were trapped in the basement / Of a motherfucking teenage HALFWAY HOUSE!!!!” Remember how specific the lyric (the entire bridge, really) was? Remember how harrowing it sounded when Cox screamed it aloud because he probably lived through it? Yeah, I do. I do because it’s probably their best song.

~”Leather and Wood” is a breath of fresh air after the preceding four songs, where we get to hear Bradford Cox’s more distinctive way of singing (ie. of spitting into the microphone for certain syllables) over a sparse instrumentation while the band fill the space with unpredictable noise. Popmatters’ Maria Schurr notes it goes on for too long, but on an album like this, small victories are still victories.

~”Snakeskin” is funky in the same way you think of Blur songs like “Go Out” are funky. You can picture indie kids politely nodding along to it live because they certainly can’t dance to it – there’s no groove!

~After “All the Same,” the album’s second best is Lotus Plaza’s “Ad Astra,” a synth-blear that evolves into a more optimistic sound for its climax. It’s broken up with radio transmissions and synth blips in the middle and a sampled song in the climax (that inspired and precedes “Carrion”). I’d say something about the plodding drum sound, but on an album like this, small victories are still victories.

~Their worst since Cryptograms; Bradford Cox’s last album released under Atlas Sound was better; as a band that shifts their sound with each album, I look optimistically towards the next because it means we won’t get this again.

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One response to “Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

  1. Pingback: Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest | Free City Sounds·

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