“Come on down from that cloud / And cast your fears aside,” urges Bradford Cox in the opening bars of the new album from indie beloveds Deerhunter. Gently, dreamily, and with a slight baroque flourish (he is singing over harpsichord – played by fellow winner of alternative hearts Cate Le Bon, no less) we are coaxed into Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, the band’s eighth album. Cox continues: “You’re all here / And there’s nothing inside / May God’s will be done / In these poisoned hills.” His self-penned linernotes disclose that the song’s title – ‘Death In Midsummer’ – is taken from the caption of a Russian Revolution-era photo he found in a book, depicting people running from piles of dead bodies. Scratch the surface, and from under the beauty of Cox’s music seeps a morbid fascination with oddness and uncertainty.
Throughout, romance is tempered with menace. On ‘No One’s Sleeping’, it’s easy to get caught up in the gorgeous tangle of guitars, synths, and multiple mandolins – you might miss the fact that Cox is singing of “great unrest… in the country there’s much duress / Violence has taken hold.”
The pretty-sounding “orange clouds” of the otherworldly ‘Elemental’ – the most classically Deerhunter-flavoured song on the album – similarly soon reveal themselves to be toxic, “cancer laid out in lines” as a flanging alarm forces everyone inside. The song is intended as “an elegy for ecology” – and indeed, in a week where destruction in California’s Joshua Tree National Park is just the latest of the world’s high-profile ecological horrors, it makes for eerie listening.
But while these songs lament the state of our culture, the crisis of our humanity, our desensitisation, and our lack of care for our planet, each other, and all else that lives on it, they also seem to signal a sort of acceptance. This album isn’t a call-to-arms or doom merchantry, but rather a poetic statement of fact – short stories of and for the anthropocene, the product of a resignation to our inevitable demise. We’re lucky to have got this far, anyway – is it not truly remarkable that everything hasn’t already disappeared?
Why Hasn’t Everything… is a meeting of minds in Cox and Le Bon (who sits not only in the seats of harpsichordist, mandolin player, ‘false’ chorister and lender of Telecaster, but also in that of producer – a fact joyously clear to the ear). And if the end times are upon us, then we may as well appreciate what we can of their strange beauty. As Cox sings on ‘Futurism’: “Your cage is what you make it / If you decorate it / It goes by faster.” I for one am happy to wait out my days, whatever’s left of them, listening to Deerhunter.
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Tue Jan 15 13:10:53 CET 201980
Recorded in rural Texas, this atmospheric album switches from psych-pop to alt-rock to experimental lo-fi, held together by Bradford Cox’s drawl
The eighth album by Deerhunter comes with a lot of words attached, of varying degrees of usefulness. There is a prose poem by frontman Bradford Cox every bit as incomprehensible as the stuff Bob Dylan used to append to the back covers of his 60s albums, evidently written while Dylan was speeding his nuts off. There are simple descriptors of the themes in each song: genuinely illuminating when dealing with a writer such as Cox, whose lyrics are famously made up on the spot, stream-of-consciousness style. But most telling of all might be the press release trumpeting the arrival of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? to the world, unmistakably also Cox’s handiwork. No “it’s our best album yet and we’re psyched for you to hear it” for the Atlanta band. Instead, it’s largely concerned with glumly pondering what the point of making albums is at all: “In an era when attention spans have been reduced to next to nothing, and the tactile grains of making music have been further reduced to algorithms and projected playlist placement.” He asks: “Is it needed now? Is it relevant? Perhaps only to a small audience.”
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Thu Jan 10 13:00:06 CET 201980
While it’s difficult to look at the works of Deerhunter and say with conviction that they ever exactly had a commercial phase, I think it’s at least accurate to say that eighth outing Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already? sees the band a very, very long way away from the ambient punk sound that made their name. It’s a clutch of odd songs, made odder by the circumstances and symbolism that have been layered on them. Aside from the striking name and the written commentary (more of which later), the band retreated to the obscure, deserted Texan desert city of Marfa alongside a series of co-producers including Cate le Bon and Ben H Allen and created a record both oblique and accessible. It’s discernibly made by the band that made Microcastle, but uses an almost completely different palette – the same way, perhaps, that Twin Peaks the Return or Alan Garner’s Boneland are discernibly sequels that also artistically attempting something else entirely.
The funny thing is that Deerhunter have to turn it to down to make a leftfield turn as they‘ve already done the whole abrasive thing: their idea of a wilful turns involves the stop-start harpsichord arpeggios that power opener ‘Death in Midsummer’, the verdant forests of bucolic acoustics on ‘No One’s Sleeping’ and ‘Nocturne’, the lush, early Simple Minds electronica of ‘Greenpoint Gothic’ and ‘Détournement’.
Its strangeness is all-pervasive, yet understated. It‘s Deerhunter’s quietest record to date, and not exactly lacking in hooks – ’Element’ and ‘Plains’ are earworm-ish. And yet everything’s ineffably odd – the instrumentation is pointedly off your expectations, sometimes like old Deerhunter transposed into a dusty bucolic, sometimes like nothing they’ve ever done before. Though it feels concerned with the decline of the west, it doesn’t so much have thunderous Armageddon vibes as the sense of a great slowing down or imminent stillness.
Cox’s lyrics are as impressionistic as ever but perhaps the record’s most aesthetically distinct component is the written commentary applied to each song on the sleeve. Mostly, it’s brief pointers pointers: the second-side-of-Low-alike ‘Tarnung’ (Lockett Pundt’s sole lead vocal) comes with the legend ‘a walk through Europe in the rain’; ‘Greenpoint Gothic’ is ‘an architectural interlude for synthesizer and drums’. The lush pop of ‘Plains’, with its chorus of “oh James, you’ve got no reason to stay in these plains” is (presumably) elucidated via the note ‘James Dean spent the Summer of 1955 in Marfa, Texas filming ‘Giant,’ before his death on September 30th.’
The one that really flips the meaning is ‘No One’s Sleeping’; the lyrics would appear to describe a small village, oddly busy at night, but the description (apparently) turns it into Deerhunter’s most politicised work to date:
'On 16 June, 2016 Labor Party MP Helen Joanne Cox died after being shot and stabbed multiple times in Birstall by Thomas Mair, a mentally ill man with ties to a Neo-Nazi organization. He shouted “Britain first” as he carried out the attack.'
Is the song about her? Is the village described Birstall? Or is it an oblique comment on the febrile international mood that led to the killing? It’s perhaps distasteful to speculate excessively, but certainly the words add something profoundly emotional to the defiant instrumental chiming of the song’s final 90 seconds, a pealing eulogy, luminous and brave.
It’s possibly worth noting that the album is also accompanied by an almost incomprehensible series of bullet points from Cox that say things like ‘Vampire Salon of human dignity, compete then we relax in glass’, so who knows how seriously you should take any of the commentary. But it all adds to the the album’s allure – a singular thing, not quite of this world, desert fruit ripening quietly on the eve of the end.
Fri Jan 18 17:57:00 CET 2019