Review Summary: Quite possibly Deerhunter's most accessible album to date.
Having left behind the brooding and sonically untamed demeanour that warped Monomania
into their most unapologetically abrasive listen since their debut, Deerhunter steer ahead into creative territory that is… well, the exact opposite of all that in Fading Frontier
. This album meanders about in calmer, yet familiar waters; it revisits the same mindset that inspired Microcastle
, Rainwater Cassette Exchange
, and (to an extent) Halcyon Digest
and yearns to arrive to something that is equally as enveloping, ethereal, and accessible. This is an exercise in refining existing sounds rather than ingenuity. In fact, I’ve grown to view Fading Frontier
II. It’s another approachable, poppier follow-up to a predecessor that was defined by its experimentalism. What Deerhunter are exploring here is a mellow, dream-pop style where artistry is always submissive to conventional melody and structure.
Their days of manipulating sounds into claustrophobic and dizzying, psych-noise freakouts are gone but not entirely forgotten; occasionally manifesting in different forms as subtle accentuations within the compositions. “Snakeskin,” for example, starts off as a funky, garage rock tune, exhibiting the kind of relaxed rhythm and keen sense of groove that one would find on a Franz Ferdinand track -- then Deerhunter’s sonically adventurous tendencies take over. That tightly wounded, poppy framework gets tampered with, but the track never loses its hold on melody. Instead, Deerhunter tuck this kaleidoscopic tapestry of sound in the background. It’s a decorative detail, but nothing more. “Take Care” and “Ad Astra” are two other tracks where sonic textures play just a significant of a role as melody. “Take Care” is a mid-tempo synth-pop ballad that slowly collides into a Souvlaki
-esque walls of effects. “Ad Astra” is more scenic. It’s an ‘80s-inspired voyage through nebulous and moderately progressive synth-pop, and easily the album’s most fascinating listen.
’s signature is focus though, and it’s evident in the concise and tightly controlled songwriting. “Leather and Wood” and “Carrion” incorporate a simplified style that Deerhunter rarely go for, and that sense of straightforward, unpretentious ease create an experience that is as enrapturing as any healthy dosage of layered, ear-candy dynamics. Deerhunter’s preference for sturdier melodicism truly makes this an all the more refreshing listen - especially following the theatrics of Monomania
. It’s a breather for both Deerhunter and us, and it’s greatly appreciated. Even the mood of Fading Frontier
is far less cynical and angst-ridden than any of their prior albums. The growth that is present in the album is one of ideology as opposed to sound. Deerhunter are looking at the world with a refined philosophical perspective. There’s a subtle undercurrent of optimism that directs the music. Two of the most swooningly gorgeous tunes in the album, “Breaker” and “Living My Life,” arrive to a stirring existential epiphany:
“Will you tell me when you find out how
To recover the lost years.
I’ve spent all of my time out here
Chasing the fading frontier.”
“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.”
These words are potent because the dilemma it addresses is universal. Bradford Cox introspectively contemplates the neurotic way that we obsess about our life without ever actually
living our life. The message to take away here is that chasing any concrete idea of happiness or wholeness is a Sisyphean endeavor by nature. It’s a mirage that appears more mythical the closer we try to get to it. “I’m living my life… I’m living my life… I’m living my life” Bradford Cox sings this like a mantra. The neurotics of the world (like myself) should all take note here.