Deerhunter - Fading Frontier - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Deerhunter - Fading Frontier

by Justin Pearson Rating:8 Release Date:2015-10-16

Indie darlings Deerhunter are often noted for their brand of experimental rock that pulls from various genres, most prominently post-punk and shoegaze. Fading Frontier seems to throw out both of these labels in favor of a more straight-forward, radio-friendly vibe. It's quite a change from anything in their back catalogue, and takes a second or third listen to fully appreciate. Not because it's particularly difficult or complex, but because it's such a turnabout in sound from the noisy garage rock of Monomania that it takes you by surprise the first time you hear it.

It appears they've stepped away from the angst for a moment and decided to embrace the light. That's not to say it isn't any good or should be slotted next to some of the junk that's currently dominating the airwaves. It's jaunty, but it musn't be confused with the ease of a walk in the park as this would be undermining the seriousness of the record. It's confident, sure of itself.

It's immediately clear that Fading Frontier is a happy record. Frontman Bradford Cox said so himself recently via Pitchfork: "This record feels to me like the first day of spring, where you go out and everybody’s happy and sitting on their stoops and walking their dogs and waving to each other. It happens once a year, after a brutal winter. It’s the day when you realize it’s not gonna be freezing forever, you’re not gonna be miserable forever. It’s a very special feeling."

The driving opener 'All The Same' could act as a theme of sorts for the album as a whole. Cox's lyrics reflect his renewed take on life after a car accident crippled him in 2014: "You should take your handicaps/ Channel them and beat them back/ Til they become your strengths / Hollowed out it's all the same." Any traces of his subsequent depression have disappeared.

Much of the songwriting on Fading Frontier is calm, driven not by intensity but rather an inner contentment. On the light and catchy 'Living My Life', the focus is on simply just being instead of trying to keep up with the stream of current trends: "I'm off the grid/ I'm out of range/ And the amber waves of grain are turning grey again." This relaxed resignation continues on the equally listenable 'Breaker', which is backed by a Mac DeMarco-esque, laid back guitar: "I'm still alive/ And that's something/ And when I die/ There will be nothing to say/ Except I tried not to waste another day trying to stem the tide."

'Take Care' charmingly lilts and sways in a 60's inspired doo-wop-ish manner while the crawling, off-key 'Leather and Wood' could have easily been placed next to Halcyon Digest opener 'Earthquake' with its slow, deliberate pacing.

The two clear standouts come near the end of the album. 'Snakeskin' is a rousing number that clangs and clatters its way along a slithering groove bordering on straight-up funk. Even more potent yet completely different in tone and feel is 'Ad Astra', which sees Lockett Pundt in charge of the vocal duties. Both musically and lyrically it's evocative of another world. A drum machine beats patiently and an eerie synth settles over it like a foggy mist. Pundt softly sets the scene with his barely-there intonation: "Many years ago/ I happened on a place/ With shadows hanging low..." It slowly builds to a quiet climax as the live drums kick in, propelling the chorus to its soaring height.

Fading Frontier isn't a masterpiece in the way that Halcyon Digest was, but it speaks to the evolving nature of Deerhunter's sound better than previous efforts have since it's so markedly different. The warm tone of the melodies paired with the lyrical content make for a solidly accessible album, and also a hopeful one. With the fading frontier of the past behind them and the well-crafted, open landscape that the album has its sights on, one can only guess where they'll go next. Onward, men!

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