Deerhunter Lightens Up on Sound, Not Attitude with “Fading Frontier”

By Audrey Avril ’19

deerhunter-fading-frontier-600x600On the Oct. 16, Deerhunter released their new album Fading Frontier, following the release of 2013’s Monomania. This however, does not imply that it is a follow-up album.

Some of the enjoyment and frustration of liking Deerhunter is that their discography, with similar ideas of sound and direction, doesn’t always follow a linear path. Their sound is consistently ambient, the words of vocalist Bradford Cox consistently bitter and biting (sometimes at other rock and indie rock figures), and yet their sound seems to wander liberally from this style. They often wander along the classic rock/psychedelic spectrum, but even some of their more rock-roots albums sound different.

That is some of the difficulty of listening to Deerhunter. If you like them because you liked another album, you probably shouldn’t take your chances hoping on that sound again. If you are hoping for another Monomania, you’re probably out of luck. If you like Deerhunter for the surprise of what they will sound like next, you are in for a big one on Fading Frontier.

Fading Frontier sounds like Deerhunter taking it down a notch from Monomania, turning it slightly back to a sound hinted at in Halcyon Digest, and ultimately resting on a softer, lighter vibe. The album may be one of their most pleasant listens, definitely the slowest and most relaxing. You will rarely find the brash sound of Monomania save for “Snakeskin,” as Deerhunter pulls together sweeping synth, uncluttered guitar, and deliberate piano for a slow, echoing saunter through the album. The first three songs on the album are smooth and relaxed, but the dreamlike ambience comes to a crescendo in the rises and lulls of highlight “Take Care.”

For all of the songs’ peaceful sound, the lyrics are made up of classic Deerhunter themes–hints at death, a persistent subject maybe more so in this album than others as Cox had been in a car accident prior to the making of this album. “Ad Astra” feels like the psychedelic musings of an archaic burial rite, in “Snakeskin” Cox is “born already nailed to the cross,” and then there’s the final track, “Carrion.” A play on both “carry on” and “carrion” as in the dead flesh of animals reveals that the bitterness and gravity of some of Deerhunter’s best are still there.

In Fading Frontier, Deerhunter has hit a sweet spot of indie rock, becoming more experimental; the songs are crafted with the delicate complexity of obscure indie hits, but with a timelessness to the rhythms and the hooks that would make it enjoyable to a wider audience. If you were expecting another Monomania, prepare to be disappointed. If you were expecting a good album, you won’t be.