Fading Frontiers is the album John Lennon would have made (well, if he were still alive and a Millennial). It’s packed with sweet melodies, complex poetry, and wonderfully appealing musical hooks. Fading Frontiers was released October 2015, and Deerhunter is currently on tour showcasing their work. The album was recorded in Atlanta and produced by Ben H. Allen III, a frequent collaborator with the group.
We’re invited with an open door of “All the Same” – Bradford Cox is so encouraging that we explore his mind. Once you’re in, you find you’ve fallen into a wide expanse of intellectual outer space. Indeed, I feel I’m on a flight of the Heart of Gold in the 1981 BBC series of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Everything stretches out in front of you, and you meet new wonder after new wonder. Songs of psychedelic thought twinkle as black infinity stretches beyond them. “Breaker” boasts a sunrise of strings. Harmonies crunch then swirl in our ears on “Take Care”.
I love an album with a diverse spectrum of color as we travel track to track. Such is the benefit of utilizing electronic instruments (so don’t knock ‘em, you acoustic purists). I’m thankful for bands like Deerhunter that are willing to explore just how far they can sonically take their listeners. Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt move around vocally: they’re up close and personal in the mix on some tracks while calling from afar on others. Cox puts great effort into the personality of his vocals. Cox will whisper in your ear throughout the intimacy of “Breaker”. The sweet cheekiness of “Take Care” makes me want to cuddle up with him and his pup. He uses every inch of his mouth to sing “Leather and Wood,” extra teeth in the consonants, saliva on the gums, and a healthy wiggling of the uvula. But even with his adept prowess of singing, Cox lets the instrumental music cultivate the essence of the album. His vocals for the most part are simplistic, and he keeps out of the way at crucial moments. He is a very selfless frontman, and that could be the thing that keeps Deerhunter alive.
Just when you begin to drift asleep, Deerhunter nudges you awake with further peculiarities. “Take Care” preps you for “Leather and Wood,” which is the point of the album that we’re reminded they’re not just another synth-y indie band. Verse-to-verse and song-to-song, we’re allowed to float off for a bit, but Cox is always committed to keeping us tethered and in range. We drift, and he pulls us back. Drift and pull back. The frontier may be fading, but he won’t let us slip into a black hole. “Snakeskin” is the catchy single, but thank God we have it because that’s the sort of thing I want to dance to at their live shows.
“Ad Astra” is the token track by Lockett Pundt. Pundt has such a pleasant voice, and I think it would be good to see more of an equal output between him and Cox. If Cox were able to evolve in this direction, I could see Deerhunter becoming even more full and diverse in their musical endeavors. In the meantime, I’m thrilled Cox and Pundt have divvied up lead vocal duties more on this album.
Just like the wonderful invitation we receive on track one, track nine is the equal bookend of closure to this album. “Carrion” is the friendly hand that waves goodbye as we float out of the collective Deerhunter brain. Cox seems to genuinely hope that we had a good time while we were around.
There’s a great settled feeling to the art of this album – as if the guys were all just thankful for life itself. The videos are orchestrated just as well as the songs: beautiful colors and psychedelic effects (The video for “Snakeskin” is deliciously unnerving. Who knew Cox would make such a great snake?).
But for those of you who feel that psychedelic flourishes get in the way of good music, take heart: Deerhunter will be much more to your liking live. When you go see this band live, you get the meat of the album without all the extra ‘weird noises’ (which I happen to like, but I’ve had the psychedelia argument often enough).
Deerhunter is playing tonight, May 8th, at Yerberia Cultura. Doors open at 8pm, and the show starts at 9pm. Narrow Head is opening.