Deerhunter have settled into making relatively traditional pop songs, and they’re doing it right, in spite of their fear of mortality
Released 16 October via 4AD
Listening to Fading Frontier, at first you’ll probably be confused. After the ‘nocturnal garage’ of Monomania, Bradford Cox and co. have gone in the complete opposite direction, making an album of relatively traditional pop songs. This is initially disappointing, since Deerhunter are masters of the weird, particularly the spaces where rock and ambient meet (something lacking on Monomania, which was relatively disappointing). However, this is an album that reveals its nuances with each listen, moving from luscious, immaculately-produced indie pop to something else entirely.
At only nine tracks long, Fading Frontier is brief and punchy, split into two halves. The first half is the real pop side, with singles ‘Breaker’ and ‘Living My Life’ being the clear standouts. ‘Breaker’ is a duet between Cox and guitarist Lockett Pundt, drifting between verses in which Cox describes a recent serious car crash, which left him severely injured, but “alive, and that’s something,” and Pundt’s plea to accept what happens in life, not to try to “stem the tide.” The track finally gets submerged in synths similar to Skying-era Horrors, before Cox finally comes to terms with himself, resolving to “never waste another day.” It’s the best song on the album. ‘Living My Life’ is much stranger coming from Deerhunter, a gentle pop song built around drum machines and synths that sound more like the Postal Service than Halcyon Digest or Cryptograms. However, once you get through the initial surprise, the track is fantastic, a further song of acceptance in the wake of Cox’s injuries.
The second half is more traditional Deerhunter, in that it’s weird and messy and brilliant. Beginning with ‘Leather and Wood,’ a six minute creeper that’s built around looping guitar and Deerhunter’s usual noises and echoes, with Cox declaring “I believe we can fly, I believe anything is real.” It shouldn’t fit with the rest of the album, but the immaculate production keeps everything seamless. ‘Snakeskin’ is the heaviest track, all distorted scratches and declarations of mortality: “I was born already nailed to the cross.” ‘Ad Astra,’ the sole Pundt track on the album, is glorious. Composed of ambience, synths and growls, it reinforces Pundt as a worthy foil to Cox. The closer ‘Carrion’ brings Deerhunter’s new pop sound back to its old perspective—abject fear of mortality, built around the pun title, and Cox desperately asking “What’s wrong with me?” The circle is complete, and Deerhunter’s new place in the pop canon is surely assured with this exceptional album.