Deerhunter have always been a tougher listen than most of their DIY-psychedelic contemporaries, but on their eighth album ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’ they meander into listenable territory.
I’ve never been one to like Deerhunter.
My affections or lack thereof lay next to those I decidedly (don’t) have for Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Beach House, Ducktails and Real Estaste, Panda Bear and Animal Collective and then too Black Moth Super Rainbow and sometimes Sugar Candy Mountain. For Ariel Pink too, this musical malaise hangs thick in the masonry, a sonic dense and too heady to enjoy. Antipathy defines too strong a term, distaste implies disgust, disinterest would suggest a lack of listening. It’s apathy that crawls out from under the rocks and creeps, to snatch these records away from enjoyment.
Stream: ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’
Among this collection of names ranging from neo-psych to shoegaze to hypnogogia, Deerhunter always seemed the spookiest—like a musical equivalent to Stranger Things just before full-bore horror erupts on to the scene with a many-fanged maw opening like the lotus of death. They may not have been high when writing their records but it certainly helps when chewing on them. Unfortunate then, that the rum (and the good rum at that) is all gone. But if this is all true, that the music is unfathomable sober and that there is an apathy apparent in writing, then why keep returning to these artists or at least some of them? Morbid curiosity. So forgive this review for the coldness of a morgue; that’s all which was offered me, and all which I can give back.
Produced by Cate le Bon, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? (released January 18, 2019 via 4AD) is the folkiest approach to their sonic they’ve done since forever — on Allmusic you’ll find a long-time fan (who’s to know on the internet anymore) complaining of a lackadaisical and “meandering” pace—and when a record borrows so many folk producers, that’s exactly what happened. Because folk is not an A-to-B affair, folk sensibilities like to meander a bit, going from A to B via G. And that’s a G as in, “Gotta see what might be around that second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh corner — just a peak, y’know?” Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile do this all the time lyrically and tempo-wise, the music is always drifting along. So don’t expect Deerhunter to throw any punches or amp people up with some jumper cables, (if you want that, then may I suggest you to a Childish Prodigy orTell Me How You Really Feel?) And if that’s a decisively un-Deerhunter thing to do, then damnit, let them be decisively un-Deerhunter. God knows, Beach House could do with being un-Beach House once in their life.
This is not pure folk mind you, but more folktronic; a little Sylvan Esso vibe even creeps in there on “Tarnung.” And for once Deerhunter do rather pique interest with enough volts to fire up a nervous twitch. Why is that? Because they approach the sonic like a sculpture intent on actually sculpting something. Beforehand they were content to just take the raw marble sound and look at it, touch it, caress it, lick it, sniff it, sleep on it, eat on it, drink from it, shit on it, anything but actually sculpt it. Never molding the damn music to what actually interested them, a general mark against most of the DIY psychedelic bands of the late-aughts. They lived with the music—but at no point did the majority seem to want to carve something from it. Animal Collective and Panda Bear at least took the time to carve MC Escher music from the stone, admirable. But just like an Escher drawing, it’s migraine waiting to happen if you enjoy it for too long (Tangerine Dream being the outlier, seacoral porn soundtrack that it is). Ariel Pink, too, became more willing to carve away from hardcore classical hypnagogia into more dream pop art with pom pom and In Memory of Bobby Jameson. And all of this disinterest is why Tame Impala gets knickers twisted on titillating fangirls; he takes classic psych-blues, blows it up and then reconstructs it to his image. The Deerhunter of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? doesn’t reach for those extremes; they take an electric chisel to the rock and begin to chip away that deadpan facade—not too much, but enough for something else to form under the surface and leave some better parts than others:
The first mark for them arrives when “No One’s Sleeping” comes off the second bridge into the main riff whistling like a key-tar and then rides it all the way out to the interlude. For “What Happens to People” Deerhunter features some great interplay between a mystery mandolin player posing as a pianist (my money’s on Cate le Bon, but the liner notes play hardball) and Lockett Pundt’s lead guitar moonlighting as an acoustic. The pian-dolin clangs together a nice little bar like a hotel bell — “ding-da-ding, ding-da-ding” — but guitar only kicks in after the chorus, when Pundt slices together a little finger-pick melody companion, as if playing the pian-dolin line in staccato. What results is two instruments vaguely playing the same sentiment, the same roots, but taking turns doing so before the middle of the refrain, when they ride side-by-side. The production, as is Deerhunter’s wont, gets a bit hairy and blurs the lines between the two. Hey, it wouldn’t be psychedelic if the lines never wobbled.
Other moments, however, find themselves a murkier depiction: the marimbas on “Tarnung” give just the right feel of worldbeat, but they seem out of place on Deerhunter’s bid to be a folktronic record—if they were aiming for blues, it would work, but they’re not, so they don’t—it sounds nice yet clashes with Javier Morales’ saxophone. So instead of aiming for worldbeat blues, they sound like they’re doing pop world folk jazz à la Sylvan Esso? What the fuck? So too does the interluding pair on this record fit poorly into the archetype of an interlude—they don’t seamlessly transition to or fro each cut, nor are they short snippets—but do allow for some moments of pure Britpop, with Cox harnessing his innermost Gallagher brother on “Plains” and “Greenpoint Gothic” playing with a synthesizer bought from a Blur memorabilia auction.
There’s much duress
Violence has taken hold
The golden void
In terms of instrumentation, Why Hasn’t features some of Deerhunter’s best decisions, if not their best percussion thanks to Moses Archuleta and a production team deadset on keeping that kit mid-mix for the majority of the record; there’s not a single cut that doesn’t have that drum just plodding along or timing the march. Further, Cate le Bon lends a masterful performance of the harpsichord on lead single “Death in Midsummer” which is probably the best part of the entire cut, while her mandolin puts in the work on “No One’s Sleeping” to bring alive Deerhunter at their most Beatles-esque moment. And if Deerhunter were ever going to have a clearcut Sgt. Pepper’s moment, this was not the record to suspect; Cate le Bon herself should have been an indication the record would be a more somber affair. It’s just a Sgt. Pepper’s affair for “No One’s Sleeping” either, as Deerhunter make a rather obtuse reference to the Kinks in the next stanza. And the golden voids and ponds all lead to the same set of whistling, psychedelic bars where instruments play to the rustling wind of a regular day in the life.
This record has one singular mood, neither upbeat nor downtrodden, this record takes the fairytale approach to depicting modern times, the Seussian method to describing lost people. But they make light of it without really addressing the issues, which chews in to their own messaging. If they wanted to make light of social breakdown, then their lack of pointedness and meandering hurts them the most here. But this is all moot, because the only obvious thing about these lyrics is that they don’t know what they want to say a part from a few moments. So this record becomes one for Sunday afternoon naps. But if this is the go-to record for you Sunday afternoon nap, might I interest you in UMO’s II, Ariel Pink’s In Memory of Bobby Jameson, Cat Power’s Wanderer, or even Toro y Moi’s What For instead? The daydreams might be more interesting.
Only time will tell, frankly, if Deerhunter break out from their self-imposed typecasting better than Beach House did last summer with 7. In Deerhunter’s defense, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? does a more convincing job of it, not relying on subtlety to weasel its way into listeners’ heads and convince people of the record of its own transcendence via confirmation biases and accustomed echo chambers. Both of these bands have shared this little ire of mine wherein each preceding record offers nothing new — hell, you could play me the lead single from Devotion and tell me it came from Depression Cherry and I’d believe you — but now, a half-year on, 7 recedes further and further into that ire. What little hopes we had have started to show cracks. But if Why Hasn’t does gently break on through to the other side, there is a record that this newest Deerhunter effort can sit along side nicely to: Somersault by Beach Fossils. Neither the former nor the latter leap from whence they came, but the latter does take a decisive step away from its predecessors.
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