When Deerhunter released Monomania in 2013, its release only added to the public mystique of Bradford Cox. The press conference for the album’s release had him in incredibly quotable form, dishing on everything from gay marriage to his own celibacy. For an art-rock album, it still managed to squeal and belch as well as any other garage record, with vocals that illustrated a tortured yet refined character.
Cox calls Monomania “a hateful record”, but now we see Cox in much brighter territory, both sonically and spiritually. For many of us, we accept the dark paths our lives are on until we find ourselves with nowhere else to go but up. In Cox’s case, this happened when he was hit by a car in 2014. After the accident, battling a deep depression, he ended up taking anti-depressants. This not only gave him a more sunny outlook on life, also gave him a new, asexual sense of self. One that stops someone not looking outward, but inward to find fulfilment.
With Fading Frontier, we revisit the same existential crises as Monomania, but with an outlook that’s much less, well, manic. In a Pitchfork interview, Cox himself describes the new record as “the first day of spring” when everything begins to melt and the outside world becomes new again. It’s the day when you realize “…you’re not going to be miserable forever”.
“Miserable” is a word that should be placed as far away from this record as possible. There’s something genuinely uplifting within the guitars and synths of Fading Frontier (which gets its title from our technologically entrenched society that will soon have nowhere to go). A lot of this can be attributed to the return of Halcyon Digest’s collaborator/producer, Ben Allen. Broadcast’s James Cargill also lends a hand in the Frontier’s aesthetic, creating ephemeral sounds that reach out into new spaces. The brighter, synthesized sound of Frontier feels like a triumphant return to form for Deerhunter.
Overall, this is without a doubt Deerhunter’s most accessible record yet, full of themes of perseverance and rebirth. Single, “Snakeskin”, is just a groovy little funk. Opening track, “All The Same”, is not only a wicked rallying cry of existential power, it feels like a better version of Monomania’s “The Missing”. “Take Care”’s drum sounds almost hearken it back to Halcyon Digest’s “Earthquake”, or the twisted-50s-style-pop-balladry of Microcastle’s “Twilight at Carbon Lake”. The material on this album feels very familiar, and still very sophisticated, evolved even. As Cox himself puts it: “If I feel like I can do it better the second time, I’ll give it another shot”.
Look out for this record, you’ll probably be hearing a lot of it.
Broadcast’s James Cargill adds gentle ephemeral synth sounds on both “Breaker” and “Take Care”, both highlights.
Review by Graham Caldwell