Review Summary: The pleasures on Disappeared are highly attenuated: almost every good melodic or structural idea is cushioned in some greater manifestation of banality or aggravation.
Deerhunter's splendid discography, with the possible exception of 2013's anomalously scuzzy (and still splendid) Monomania
, has been keyed to a sort of Surrealist tension between surface and depth. Like with the films of David Lynch or the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, the band's songs are often if not always marked by a placid and refined exterior, beneath which are fed hints or outright expressions of darkness and horror. The effect which obtains thereby is a sense that there exists, pinned under the expanses of quotidian phenomena, a host of negative feelings and experiences that inflect our perspective on our world. The placid surface is usually sonic--think of the twinkling guitars and stately drum machines of 2010's iconic "Helicopter"--and the darkness usually carried out by frontman Bradford Cox's lyrics--think of...erm, the devastating human trafficking fable of 2010's iconic "Helicopter"?--but the best Deerhunter songs always feel comprehensive in mood, as if these contradictory sensations cannot be separated out.
Now we have Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
, which exposes problems in this creative process by cranking the timbral dynamic up to an unsustainable degree. To wit: judging by its title and its lyrics and the Peter Ackermann art adorning its cover, Disappeared?
is about the goddamn apocalypse; as if to "make up" for his embrace of the darkest possible timeline, Cox has rendered the sonic architecture of his music even more
placid, more likable, stiller and smoother. This instinct toward purification immediately proves to be a problem for the band: "Death in Midsummer," Cate Le Bon's ear-catching harpsichord notwithstanding, is the most boring, perfunctory opener the band has ever produced, even moreso than the actual introductory tracks
that adorn Cryptograms
...and the album goes from there. Stripping down their songwriting ethos to its essential components, Deerhunter have made a record that goes down all too easy, 36 minutes of traces-of-songs which might substantively relate to the theme of disappearance but not to us
Highlights exist, to be sure: two of 'em. Those would be "What Happens to People?" and the merely two-minute "Plains," both of which prove Deerhunter's prowess in the practice of generating consonance, their ability to cobble together a resplendent sonic weave from major-chord arpeggi via shimmering guitars and thick synth pads. "What Happens to People?", in particular, sounds like a transmission from an immeasurably better album; Cox bores into the heart of the matter lyrically, with a philosophical bent that is both moody and somehow poppy in its simplicity: "What happens to people? And what can they do?" Yet even this track has the distinct misfortune of being followed up by "Detournement," an eminently skippable vocal-modulator outing that indulges the worst inclinations of Cox's spiky personality. The pleasures on Disappeared?
are highly attenuated in this manner, as almost every good melodic or structural idea is cushioned in some greater manifestation of banality or aggravation.
To be clear, the feeling that remains is that Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
is indeed wholly a Deerhunter album--it's just a worse
Deerhunter album than the rest. At the risk of sounding cruel, it feels as the four years since 2015's Fading Frontier
wasn't quite enough time for Bradford Cox to stock up on his songwriting bona fides, so that the majority of this new record feels stuck in a chordal rut. The dynamic tension between the musical surface and the tonal depth is alive and well, but Disappeared?
serves as an excellent reminder that good rock music needs more than just ideas to thrive. Somewhere within the ineffable play between chords and melody, between verse and chorus--this
is where that kind of music meets us listeners halfway, providing context for our worldly experiences and guiding us to aesthetic and personal gratification. Deerhunter is a band that has been seamlessly integrating their interest in conveying complex moods with their melodic aptitude in this manner for years and years now, and I've always figured that it wouldn't become me to pounce like a hyena were they ever to falter. Yet recent, corrosive interviews with Cox about the band's future and the apocalyptic thematic content of this middling album only make it tougher to have faith. In the face of such troubling signs, one can only sit, keep listening, and hold out hope that Disappeared?
represents a small misstep rather than a headlong leap into the abyss.