Friday, October 16, 2015

Deerhunter - Fading Frontier Review

Over the past decade Deerhunter has walked numerous tightropes between genres, shifting slightly with each incoming release. While their earlier works tip toed between Shoegaze, Psych, and Ambient, later works focused on concise measures and skeletal brevity. Their latest, Fading Frontier, brings out the most of this, finally, after many hints, bringing out the Pop edge Bradford Cox and his team had been harboring for years through an Indie guise. The Atlanta based band never seem content with revisiting old works, constantly shifting their focus depending on their most recent situation, making Cox's December 2014 car accident a turning point that defines their latest LP. Whereas Cryptograms saw sporadic thoughts scrambling for sense, Monomania exuded his psychotic tendencies, and Halcyon Digest witnessed the public transformation of a gender-confused character, Fading Frontier sees life through second chance. While their earlier LP’s come complete with a grandiose facade, Fading Frontier is more reserved, nestling itself into Deerhunter’s discography rather submissively. Apart from a few lauding standouts, on par with some of their best work, much of their seventh LP seems to simply exist, passing as a Indie Pop record with some experimentation that lacks a clear direction, despite some inventive lyricism by Cox about life after near fatality. 

In many ways Fading Frontier is just glad to be here. On older releases Deerhunter has been precise, patient, and concerned with their well-being, but here the group, deliberately infused by Cox’s mental state, is much more laid back. From the get-go, on 'All The Same,' the group takes no time shaking off the dust, pulling out the cobwebs, and impregnating the track with a strong Dream Pop tinge akin to Halcyon Digest's more fantastical moments. Rather than developing the sound, 'All The Same,' and many like it here, remain gaunt and withered, but packed with energy. Throughout the 36 minutes Deerhunter abstain from complications, merely dipping their toes in their previous releases, like 'Ad Astra' and Cryptograms highly-compressed synthetic symphony, 'Leather & Wood' and Weird Era Cont.'s quavering Experimental uncertainties, or 'Breaker' and Microcastle's straight edge Rock narration. In fact, what it takes from least is their latest, Monomania, and if anything that's more indicative of Cox's adjustment to accepting life, forgoing rigid Noise Rock for looser basement-laden jams. Better for some, but worse critically, is Fading Frontier's undefinable character, an album that seems poised on taking from former moments rather than creating its own. 

Being that Deerhunter is a key Indie Rock outfit, bringing in a range of influences and fans, the talent behind the music, as expected, is stellar. On other, more involved records Deerhunter has been capable of textured, dense arrangements. And while some of that is present here the group aims more to perfect simplicity, working off patterns and melodies that won't wow but will make for long-lasting enjoyment. Finale 'Carrion' and lead single 'Snakeskin' both exude this commitment to natural progression, mimicking an hours long session where the best backbones often come together after strenuous tweaking, reveling in their perspicuity. One gleaming exception of this is 'Take Care,' the best track here and clear early album climax. It bears resemblance to 'Desire Lines,' not in style but in execution, having a refrain that works radiantly as a means to tear through the track's duration. While the first half sees Cox vaulting over a lucid dreamscape, the second half parades around jarring instrumentation collectively colliding to make a vivid, clairvoyant piece. And while other moments don't ascend quite as high they succeed off their more lax approach, like 'Living My Life,' which gallantly soothes and pacifying with its more traditional soundscape. 

While not as dense or consuming as Halycon Digest's lyrical content, Fading Frontier does posit some unassuming qualms about life and not being afraid to change to find a home. Within the first two minutes Cox states sentiments eerily similar to that of Halcyon's queer-oriented background. In place of a young boy trying to find himself though 'All The Same' sees an aging man, already invested in life "change his sex and have no more, no more wife, no more kids, nothing left to live with." For all that it assumes Fading Frontier is more or less about this statement, favoring the chance to escape and begin again. Throughout the LP Cox looks for a home, his first line declares the intention "my home anywhere, expect no comforts save for air," but one of his last, on the congenial 'Carrion' sees his final destination, "deep in the ground, looking around, trying to find my home, trying to find a home, but I dug too deep." The album-length connection is a worthy one to invest time into unraveling for it holds loose thoughts meandering around deeply held beliefs. There's even an odd Western sample that appears at the end of 'Ad Astra' where the vocalist states "I wish I was a hole in the ground," segueing beautifully into Fading Frontier's finale. 

On their latest there's a lot to love. It doesn't shock as much as Monomania and doesn't stun as much as Halcyon Digest, but it does fill out their discography rather cogently. That lack of impact though does make its presence a bit unassuming, where, for the first time in Deerhunter's career, they don't seem intent on directing your attention to their music. While the album does directly discuss the nature of life and the fallacy of failing to take it for granted, this calming place of contention slithered its way into the music, causing an album that it itself believes is good enough. Their ten year tenure has failed to warrant a bad song, so when unimpressionable tracks like 'Duplex Planet' or 'Snakeskin' play, they tend to submerge themselves in a mundane palate that reeks when compared to their other, greater works. Overall though, for a quick 36 minutes Fading Frontier offers depth in lyricism and some catchy pieces that'll sanction repeated listens, just don't expect another awe-inspiring release that wants to create chaos either sonically or conceptually. They’ve made a career off Cox’s various mental slip-ups, this is the result of him finally being content.

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