Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared
Released: January 18, 2019
On ‘Death in Midsummer,’ the opening song of Deerhunter’s latest offering, lead singer Bradford Cox sails in over a harpsichord staccato, “you’re all here and there / and there’s nothing inside.” Is this a jab at the amassing cult of personalities who use the internet to create omnipresence? Maybe that’s reading too much into it but Cox has never shied away from cryptically simple lyrics and doesn’t hold back on Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Deerhunter’s previous album, Fading Frontier was a more contemplative affair, channeling 70s psychedelic rock. On WHEAD?, it feels as if Deerhunter have processed their previous work into a more assertive and approachable package closing out in a lean 37 minutes. You can recognize from the punishingly garage-esque drums early on the album, that this polishing has come at little or no expense to rawness in spirit or sound.
The musical compositions on WHEAD? are not overly complex and yet many are instrumentally heavy emotional roller-coasters. ‘Tarnung’ descends the listener into a mysterious space forest filled with criss-crossing Xylophone and Marimba arpeggios. Each mallet hit resulting in a beautifully building tension, reminiscent of Steve Reich. The orchestration and vocal arrangement for the duet is soundtrack worthy. Any air of pretentiousness that is usually abundant in these forays are non-existent here because the required smashing indie jams of any hotly anticipated album are included on WHEAD? too. Take ‘No One’s Sleeping’ for example, which seesaws between one campfire play-along verse and one churning horns section with reverb-drenched slide guitar. Cox meanwhile is handing out observational omens and false hopes in the same line such as, “Violence / is taking hold / follow me / the golden void.” The song climaxes in a festival hoedown where smashing cymbals, pixie guitar licks and circling synths underpin.
WHEAD? is a fun ride, where different Pianos, Horns, Synths, Strings, Xylophones and Wind Instruments add to the group’s core to achieve rich harmonious textures. For Deerhunter, this mostly comes as a result of the conscious effort undertaken to study and stretch the tonality of new instruments, microphones and recording devices. Another method used on WHEAD? involves glueing several different takes on top of one another. Again, these were recorded in different locations, gathering sonic artifacts of each environment. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s final song ‘Nocturne.’ A whole ensemble of instruments devolve and substitute for one another over 6 plus minutes as they are interwoven by the same melody. Cox cries into his microphone but it is difficult to understand what he is saying. It sounds as if he is yelling down the line of his phone and the connection keeps dropping out and distorting. Creating these aural tapestries is not uncommon for producers and engineers. So, the audiophile contingency which most one-point-or-another-labelled-post-rock groups accumulate will be pleased with the ear candy. Nevertheless, it doesn’t downplay the high distinction to which Deerhunter have undertaken in exploring this technique.
The shape-shifting mood of WHEAD? perpetuates a space that Cox flaunts his Shakespearean linguistics in. On the impressive melancholic jaunt ‘Elemental,’ the subjective stance is completely flipped interchanging a narrator’s voice with Platonian calls, “indoors we go.” Vaporous hints at the insanity incurred by a technologically driven insular lifestyle include, “Do you go? / Completely gone.” The stuttering through the chorus line of a gradual retreat leaves us with a brilliantly complex though effortless blurring of primitive and psychotic behaviour. As Cox takes the word Element through a transmogrified experience, a backing choir chants “Elemental,” with a tribally literate emphasis on -mental. Eventually, Cox ends up joining them. Most groups would probably shelf these word games for a concept album, Deerhunter have significantly fleshed it out on WHEAD?.
Taking on these different identities permeates that classical theme of the Good and the Evil or Heaven and Hell. In some songs the framework for choruses are to be disposed of altogether in lieu of a two section format where verse play off each other. Deerhunter leads us into rolling green meadows, only to remind us that it is a figment of our imaginations. It’s actually quite refreshing, never feeling overindulgent. ‘What Happens to People?’ takes the memories of the technologically reliant in one verse “what happens to people / they fade out of view / i can’t remember your face / it’s lost to me” and forks them with the forgotten and aging in another, “what happens to people / they quit holding on / and they’re locked out.”
Rather than take sides, Cox prefers to add a purgatorial dimension, acting as a Dionysian communicator. It does come off as preachy, but luckily, it’s not self-righteous. ‘Detournement,’ the French word for diversion, is a subconscious synth meander through limbo. A pitched down voice dislocates countries from there ecologically ironic circumstances, “Hello to Europe / and your gardens wet with rain.” Headlines regarding environmental, political and social issues are twisted into imminently poignant prophecies, “Hello to salt water / and good times / and there is not much left to go / and your struggles won’t be long / and there will be no sorrow on the other side.” I get the sense that Deerhunter, don’t want to be considered gods in the indie world. They want to be the mystics delivering sage wisdoms and observations, informing you and making you question the sides who take part and wage in this world.
There is no utterance of war or political conflict directly. Rather, the side effects of The Great Fragmentation are broached in enigmatic ways (The Great Fragmentation refers to the the phenomena of the internet shifting us from the industrial era to the digital age and the concurrent power struggles). They raise a concern about how society is becoming so inundated with images and media that as a result the issues that really matter often disappear without anyone really noticing. This was likely informed, in part, by Cox’s surroundings during the recording of this album in Marfa, Texas. In an interview with Vogue in April 2018, Cox said, “There is a feeling of disappearance here.” Deerhunter is letting everyone know that we have lost a will to fight or protest for what is right in the world because we have numbed our brains into cyborgs.
Is it time to check our egos at the door and to put on our utopian shoes for a moment? This potentially nice sentiment is all Deerhunter can ask for in this day and age while listening to their remarkably refined and deceptive album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Deerhunter are playing Immer Gut Festival, which runs from May 30th – June 1st, 2019. Tickets are on sale now.