Deerhunter Abandons Nostalgia and Turn Towards a Daunting Future on their Poppiest Album Yet
by Owen Murray
In 2010, Deerhunter released their psychedelic indie rock masterpiece Halcyon Digest. The album remains their most successful and critically acclaimed to date. Ironically, in a recent interview with Noisey, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox revealed that he doesn’t consider his music indie rock, nor does he consider Halcyon Digest to be among the band’s best work. Not only did Cox rank the band’s early breakthrough record Microcastle higher than Halcyon Digest, but he also preferred Deerhunter’s more recent efforts, including 2013’s Monomania and 2015’s Fading Frontier. While fans and critics may have different preferences, it is refreshing to know that Cox is continuing to make music that he believes is his best work.
On their latest project Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? Deerhunter moves confidently in a new direction. The band first gained recognition for songs riddled with anxious nostalgia—one of the most potent examples being Halcyon Digest’s “Desire Lines,” which was written and sung entirely by the band’s guitarist Lockett Pundt—but for the first time, they are looking towards the future. Anxiety remains just as prevalent, as shown by the dystopian scene Cox depicts on “No One’s Sleeping.” “No one’s sleeping / Great unrest / in the country there’s much duress / violence has taken hold,” he sings. As soon as the opening track “Death in Midsummer,” Cox yelps in an assertive crescendo “There is no time to go back,” a surprising phrase from someone who sang nearly an entire discography about going back to better times. It is important to note that this is the first album since the untimely death of Deerhunter’s former bassist Josh Fauver, who left the band after Halcyon Digest. Such an event that would surely make the type of nostalgia featured on Halcyon Digest incredibly difficult to continue.
Though Bradford Cox hates the label of indie rock—he once called it “rock, but lazy”—Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? has Deerhunter fitting more solidly into indie rock than they ever have. To the band’s credit, this doesn’t mean they sound lazy. In fact, they sound tighter than ever with a polished, clean sound that compliments the albums relatively concise songwriting. The psychedelia of Halcyon Digest and the harsh noisiness of Monomania placed Deerhunter a little more left field than their indie rock contemporaries like Grizzly Bear and closer to indie experimentalists like Animal Collective. Now, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? has the band further embracing their pop sensibilities. Despite lyrics depicting environmental degradation and disintegration of modern life, Deerhunter expands on the serene sound of their last album Fading Frontier. Many of the songs featuring an instrumental pallet of crisp drums, sweet synths, and slightly distorted electric guitar and bass. Aside from a few disjointed, eerie detours such as “Detournement” and “Tarnung” and some subtle psychedelia sprinkled into tracks like “Element,” the experimental elements of Deerhunter’s music have been largely left behind.
Though Cox has often expressed his bitterness and exasperation that his later albums have not received the same recognition as Halcyon Digest, it’s clear that he’s not trying to relive the band’s heyday. Instead, he’d rather make the music that he believes is the best he can make, even if the reception is infuriatingly underwhelming. Knowing how much Deerhunter each new album means to Cox and the band makes each development in the band’s sound and attitude worth following. Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? shows that Deerhunter’s progression is just as intentional and direct as ever, even as their most popular work ages into memory.