If bands could be compared to long drives, Deerhunter has never really had anything of a road map. Frontman Bradford Cox himself has described his songwriting process as a stream-of-consciousness, not writing anything in advance. It is almost a strategy at this point for Deerhunter to only move with the flow- a secret flow that only they seem to be able to tap into. What has usually resulted is a pretty blend of noise rock and psychedelic pop, all laced up and down with shoegaze.
“I’m still alive, and that’s something”
But sometimes life deals an individual an unavoidable push in a new direction, however catastrophic. In the unfortunate case of Bradford Cox, it was getting hit by a car last December. It was a catastrophe that threw Cox into unfortunate hospitalization and even more unfortunate depression, Cox himself claiming he “just felt no interest in anything else”. It was a state of mind likely void of hope or optimism, which makes it all the more satisfying that Fading Frontier embodies these two qualities with full force. The opener “All the Same” is the first of multiple indications that Bradford Cox has improved both physically and emotionally with time. With slow but steady indie rock propulsion, along with some dream-pop vibes in the mix, it’s an opening track that might suggest in Cox’s own words that “you’re not gonna be miserable forever.”
And if “All the Same” is a suggestion that the sun is rising, the following track “Living My Life” serves as the example of what that sunrise might sound like if translated into music. Opening up with atmospheric synthesizers and a bubble wrap beat, it’s a song that sounds distinctly Postal Service in its carefree youthful nature. Although the track “Breaker” might sound like a day at the beach, it is actually the first track to directly reference Cox’s car accident. “I’m still alive, and that’s something,” he sings over the summery guitars that seem to match his satisfying newfound optimism. “Take Care” brings yet another idea to the table: a Beach House impersonation that goes over way better than it reasonably should. The album does occasionally experience a lull or two throughout its newfound liveliness, such as the slow and mysterious “Leather and Wood” that unfortunately has quite some trouble sounding more interesting than its title. Regardless of the occasional lull however, Fading Frontier achieves through their new sound what one might achieve when wiping the fog off his or her glasses: a chance to see the world through a clearer and more fulfilling perspective.
For what gold this album may have in sonic and thematic ideas, it unfortunately lacks a sensible arrangement of these pieces. Fading Frontier suffers the unfortunate consequence of having a lot of terrific content with very little linking it all together. The entire record consists of shifts from one sound like the dreamy “Ad Astra” to another sound like the vintage slow-jam “Carrion” entirely foreign to the first. It’s a phenomenon Deerhunter doesn’t capitalize on nor knows what to really do with. Deerhunter could very well own its messiness here, but the band instead seems more willing to simply shrug and move forward with the show.
But what a show it nonetheless is. It’s quite rare for a band as up in the air as Deerhunter to sound so down to earth on a record. It’s quite difficult not to think of the famously experimental Radiohead buckling down and delivering the shockingly human In Rainbows. There is endless pleasure in seeing a wave of optimism and resilience crash over a band that has spent so much of their discography with such frenzied urgency. Even more so however, it’s pleasing to have musical proof that Bradford Cox is going to be okay.
Some records can truly heal.