Our Daily Bread 292: Deerhunter ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’

January 10, 2019

Album Review / Dominic Valvona





Deerhunter  ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’
(4AD)  January 18th 2019


Loaded with despondent query and concept-fueled reference points (both in the literature and geographical senses), Deerhunter’s latest nuanced road trip across a ruined divided landscape poses many open-ended and visceral questions: And doesn’t exactly answer them.

As the current instability (take your pick: Brexit, Trump, Putin, rise of right wing populism in Europe and South America…. the list goes on and on) across the globe keeps Bradford Cox awake at night, the frontman’s pen scribbles away at a fair old rate in anxious irritation at the imposing chaos, on the band’s latest album for 4AD: The songwriting, it must be said, more honed and (daresay) melodically accessible than ever.

Making sense of the miasma, sending back woozy postcards from the languid ‘slipstream’ and hazily cooing eulogies to a constant theme of loss and a poisoning of the well of human kindness, Deerhunter repeatedly yearn like they did on their previous cerebral triumph, Fading Frontier, about the fading away of everything they hold dear. That album mined a similar discourse of disappearing humility, and musically captured, with an equally assuage tactile brilliance, the prevailing mood of the times through a steady daze of synthesized and melodious jingle-jangly troubadour indie pop.

Though proclaiming that ‘nostalgia is toxic’ in the sub-headed description of the surprisingly Bolan glam hued, cynical ‘Futurism’, Deerhunter’s penchant for reinvention never truly breaks free from the shackles of the past. Woozy elements abound of Bowie and Eno’s partnership on Low and Heroes, a languid John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band, the Tubeway Army and, weirdly, a more credible Starsailor. Aiming to circumnavigate familiarity and a link to rock’s back pages, they discard separate amplifier setups to plug directly into the mixing desk. The results of which, played out over a flattish drumming backbeat, airy vaporous synthesizer sculpting build-ups, nuzzled suffused saxophone, bobbing undulated marimba, gentle romantic piano flourishes and pizzicato strings, often subdues the guitar sound entirely, which is light on lead but heavy on the acoustic rhythm.





Adding an aura of lilted and dreamy idiosyncrasy, cult Welsh experimentalist Cate Le Bon makes up part of the extended production and guest appearance crew. Lining up alongside long-term Deerhunter producer Ben H. Allen III, plus Ben Etter and the band themselves, Cate’s qualitative musical eccentricities add some sparkle and strange off-kilter ethereal wooing to the overall sound. You can hear her subtle Baroque harpsichord playing on the album’s first single, ‘Death In Midsummer’ – a slow unfurled highlight that despite its melodious warm quality sets out on an elegiac walkabout, inspired in part by a macabre photograph from the Russian Revolution -, and sad aerial harmony on the somber Heroes LP imbued ‘Tarnung’ – subtitled notes allude to a ‘walk through Europe in the rain’.

Not only produced by a number of collaborators, the tracks themselves were recorded in a number of inspired, prompted towns throughout the southern hemisphere of the USA; from Cox’s attic in Atlanta to the Seahorse Sound Studio in L.A. and a couple of locations in Texas. Among these, the poignant Marfa, Texas setting of the fated last film performance of James Dean, Giant. That last summer of 1955, before Dean tragically crashed his somewhat untamable sports car just months later in September of that same year, is played out in the tropical marimba and heavenly allured synthesized buoyant ‘Plains’. As with most of the songs on this album, the bubbly but languid swoozy swansong to Dean draws vague analogies to the fate of change. Cox doesn’t so much implore us to break from the past and fondness for what may have never existed, as gently and with tactile restraint, offers direction: swooning at one point to follow him through “the golden void”.

However, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is an elegy of remembrance to those that have been left behind in the pursuit of progress too. Cox even chooses to swim against the tide of these ennui attention-span self-absorbed times by penning and playing more cerebral, nuanced and subtly experimental music in the face of instant gratification and validation – the ‘eternally jetlagged’ visage of the Tron and Blade Runner-esque, glistening ‘Détournement’, is an uneasy strange hallucinatory vision of that future-present symbiosis.

Billed, in part, as an unpredictable sci-fi album about the present, WHEAD? offers a sensibility and melodious weary, clipped amorphous survey of a disappearing humanity, on the verge of a Cormac McCarthy dystopia. Yet it sounds, mostly, brilliant, personal and at times languidly beautiful.



Dominic Valvona (founder/editor/chief instigator of the Monolith Cocktail)

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