Deerhunter goes into even weirder and better territory on their new record.
January 18, 2019 | by C.M. Crockford
Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
Bradford Cox will hate me for saying this — he's been clear in interviews and in the press release for this album that he thinks “nostalgia is poison” (and he's mostly correct) — but the band that Deerhunter reminds me of the most at the moment is The Beatles. Not just in sound but in scope. The post-Rubber Soul Beatles made music that felt of its time and timeless, a phantasmagoria of pop from other, weirder dimensions where circuses and acid tripping were the dominant entertainment.
Like The Beatles, Deerhunter have moved completely away from rock with Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, and the result is fucking thrilling. And mournful too — often in these albums Cox, Pundt, and co. have lived in the strange space between being young and old, where you can grieve for dead friends and still buy a house. (The exception to this is their raving, evil masterpiece Monomania, which I've written about extensively on this site.) As with Fading Frontier, Cox has centered himself, but still seethes a bit inside: “Your cage is what you make / If you decorate it." The internal violence of being disabled is in all of his lyrics. This album is so alive, so vital and weird, and so sad.
Co-produced with singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon and recorded in Texas, LA, and Atlanta, Disappeared has few sparkling guitars, no R&B sax solos. It's an astonishingly experimental collection of music, living in its own plane of existence, maybe science fiction as the label suggests, maybe just resisting categorization. Instrumental “Greenpoint Gothic” is an addictive, groovy little number a few miles above the high of “Ad Astra” from Fading Frontier. And yes, damn right there are instrumentals and songs using the vocals as an instrument in and of itself. I have no clue what Le Bon herself and Cox are singing in strange harmony on the intentionally Berlin Trilogy-esque “Tarnung” — the word itself is German for “camouflage” — but their voices are eerie and gorgeous over that xylophone chord pattern, so reminiscent of “Weeping Wall.”
It's mad stuff, and then “Plains” comes in from left-field to take over your body with cavernous LCD Soundsystem drums and a squirming bassline. It's a rhythmic pop song and a spiritual return to America, world-weary and barren, as Cox comes to the same plains that Blind James Williamson did and sees James Dean out there in the emptiness, a vision of a ghost perhaps. “Oh James / You've got no reason to stay in these plains.” It's Americana, queer, and pained all at once, and the closest Deerhunter comes on this to earworms, save that it's only two minutes and 13 seconds of pleasure.
Otherwise all is buried, pulsing anxiety here. “What Happens to People” is like a haunted sequel to “Basement Scene,” and “Sailing,” the regret and pain palpable: “What happens to people / And what can they do? / They're only returning / The powers of youth.” The piano and percussion tumble on the bridge then Pundt's guitar bounces, his melody bringing us back — that is, until the keyboards and instruments clatter about near the end. Everything fades on an uncertain piano chord, chiming until it can't anymore.
Closer “Nocturne” is an encapsulation of the album's brilliance, its existence in between American restlessness and European cool. Cox's words are strangled, severed even, as if somebody is chopping the syllables in half, a grotesque parody of Brecht/Weill songs and their sing-speak patterns. “Laying on the co– / And the boundary was spreading like disease / Like disea-” he chokes out, Elvis singing “Baby Let's Play House,” Patti Smith singing of possibilities. “Back, back, ba-,” he calls, and then the song just transforms, like Paul Muad'Dib ingesting the spice and awakening his inner power. It is a divine revelation, the band jamming away on harpsichords, contrabass, and organs, drums following bizarre patterns until the song finishes at last on a single key until the thing is interrupted. The band has cracked. They have discovered something new. I can't wait to see what they do after this.
This is one of the best albums of the year.
Watch the video for "Death in Midsummer" and purchase Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? at 4AD.