If there’s one certainty with Deerhunter, it’s that you can expect each album to be different from the last. After the post-punk noise of their 2004 debut, Turn It Up Faggot, the Atlanta four-piece reappeared in 2007 with the “ambient punk” of Cryptograms. It was still messy but was a step in a new, more refined direction. A huge leap forward was taken on 2008’s Microcastle, producing arguably their best work to date. Accompanied by an additional album of more experimental tracks, it retained the better elements of their earlier work but focussed more on melody and production, creating an excellent blend of dream-pop and energetic guitars.
2010’s Halcyon Digest kept the momentum going, all but equalling their previous effort. A more nocturnal album, it featured an approach to songwriting that was deeper and more emotional, sharing many similarities with front-man Bradford Cox’s solo work as Atlas Sound. 2013’s follow-up Monomania saw a regression of sorts towards an angst filled and jerky garage-rock style, which according to Cox was fuelled by “a deep period of passionate rage.”
Their sixth album Fading Frontier sees Deerhunter producing something that sounds more like the natural successor to Halcyon Digest that Monomania wasn’t. A lot has been made of Cox being hospitalised after being hit by a car last December and the effect it had on the album, but he’s dismissed this as an exaggeration. Regardless of what influenced him, Cox certainly sounds more refreshed and optimistic than ever with Fading Frontier which features some of his strongest and positive lyrical and vocal performances thus far. It also sees the return to Halcyon Digest producer Ben Allen, whose influence can be heard throughout, along with the role of synths featuring more prominently than before.
“All the Same” kicks the album with a more classic Deerhunter sound of chiming, melodic guitars, before a new style and direction is revealed. The chilled euphoria of shimmering single “Living My Life” with its tropical dub feel is as uplifting as they’ve ever sounded. “Breaker” features the first ever vocal duet between Cox and lead-guitarist Lockett Pundt, who has released some very good solo material himself in recent years as Lotus Plaza.
There are also a number of guest appearances, with “Duplex Planet” featuring Stereolab’s Tim Gane on electric harpsichord, and dream-pop centrepiece “Take Care” featuring Broadcast’s James Cargill on synths and tapes. Towards the end of the album, lead-single “Snakeskin” is stand-out track with its funky guitar-driven swagger and Cox singing about a new beginning. Another highlight then follows this in the form of the spacey synth-driven “Ad Astra,” which is primarily the work Pundt.
Fading Frontier isn’t their best work to date, but it certainly has the potential to lay the groundwork for something even better next time around. Given the strength of their discography so far, they certainly have it in them to produce something capable of topping Microcastle or Halcyon Digest. If one thing can almost guaranteed, it’s that given their penchant for change the follow-up this album probably won’t sound the same.
Top Tracks: Living My Life; Take Care; Snakeskin; Ad Astra
Released: 16 October 2015
Genres: Alternative/Indie Rock; Dream-Pop