Nostalgia without definitive time or place permeates the amorphous core of Deerhunter’s eighth studio release, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? It has been four years since Fading Frontier delivered new music from the band, who are poised to explore new ground on January 18th via 4AD.
Formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 2001, Deerhunter went bold nearly from the start. Their 2005 debut, Turn It Up Faggot, put the band’s name onto the map. At one time describing themselves as “ambient punk,” these Indie/Art Rockers have continued to develop and evolve their eclectic sound with follow-ups such as 2008’s Microcastle, 2013’s Monomania, and, most recently, the aforementioned Fading Frontier. These successes have led the band to share stages with the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails; perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivals; collaborate with fashion powerhouse Rodarte; perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; and tackle a nearly endless list of additional accomplishments. Sadly, there have also been great losses: most recently, the untimely passing of former Bassist Joshua Fauver in November.
Deerhunter is a band chock-full of multi-instrumentalists — Vocalist/Guitarist/Keyboardist Bradford Cox, Guitarist/Keyboardist/Vocalist Lockett Pundt, Drummer/Percussionist Moses Archuleta, Bassist/Organist Josh McKay, and Keyboardist/Saxophonist Javier Morales. For their eighth studio offering, the quintet continue to shun musical boundaries, taking listeners on a journey through an amorphous timescape that is grounded in a lofty existentialism. It’s the present seen through the eyes of the future, occuring in the past — or something like it.
As Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? begins, close your eyes and you will be sonically transported to a peaceful land where time has no meaning and all the evils of the world have been cast out. Lyrically the converse of this quietude, “Death in Midsummer” is anchored by its usage of harpsichord (thanks to guest Cate LeBon), weaving a nostalgic experience that feels like a dance through a midsummer meadow but inspired by darkness. It’s certainly not a song that you have heard before, which is the perfect description of the album as a whole.
There’s a gentle, wistful psychedelia underlying “No One’s Sleeping” that blends with some jazzy moments to author a curiously modern and yet entirely age-old tale. Lyrically, the band dip into the “great unrest” throughout the country — however, is that the chaos of modern times or of the past? Perhaps, just maybe, the revelations awaiting us inside the golden void are that war and tumultuousness are an eternal consequence of the domineering presence of humanity?
Once the former questions have been allowed to resonate, in order to cleanse the palate, Deerhunter turn toward an instrumental, “Greenpoint Gothic.” The aptly-titled piece contains ironically whimsical, gothy vibes dusted with what sounds like a xylophone, woven together into a sleepy, dreamy little number that is perfect for meditative purposes. This is followed by the celebratory prance of “Element,” which returns Cox’s vocals to the mix, while “What Happens to People?” goes dream-adaisical. Glittering keys help to create the wistful aura of the latter, which questions the fading of all our dreams.
“Good morning to Japan,” begins “Détournement,” which at face value is a bizarre Spoken Word postcard inflected with sonics worthy of a 1980’s Sci-Fi film soundtrack. Dig a little deeper into the propaganda and you will no doubt improve your take away. Then, the quintet bounce back up for the steady beat of “Futurism,” featuring Tim Presley on abstract lead guitar. Truth be told, while the track might sound like an upbeat bop, it is really a serious glance at the cages we build around ourselves and our willful ignorance — for those who are blind to the past are surely doomed to repeat it.
The disguise that “Tarnung” wears is a spiritual, ethereal beauty that features Cate LeBon on vocals, one that flows into a magnificently meditative instrumental. With your aura cleansed, you are now ready to enter into the beat of “Plains,” featuring Grammy Award-winning Ben H. Allen III on synthetic bass. A tribute to the late, great James Dean that utilizes somber yet poetic visuals to communicate his passage across the physical plane and onto the next, “Plains” was appropriately recorded in Marfa, Texas.
For the finale, “Nocturne” — featuring Ian Horrocks on contrabass — turns many of its sonics onto their sides, jumping out at listeners and demanding their attention. It’s completely bizarre: not quite dissonant but with moments of intentional incongruency that skew together to create something that actually works. Much like the bulk of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, it’s like a higher-level, sonic acid trip.
Produced by Cate LeBon, Ben H. Allen III, Ben Etter, and Deerhunter, and recorded at an array of locations throughout the U.S., Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? paints a sonic watercolor fraught with moments of death and life, politics and architecture, emotion and toxicity. It is a eulogy for tomorrow, written in the future while dancing through the rains of yesterday. In English, Deerhunter have crafted a time-defying jamboree of eclecticism that turns modern music onto its head and laments the loss of what has not yet been. It’s very much a fact: Deerhunter have indeed made a Science Fiction album about the present. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Deerhunter’s Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? 4 of 5 stars.