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Deerhunter - Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? Music Album Reviews

Though the band is now squarely in its pop era, the nostalgia that laced its early records has morphed into a timely, fatalistic vision of the future and national decay.

By 2015, Bradford Cox had grown weary of the nostalgia that suffused Deerhunter’s early records. “When I was young, foggy nostalgia was such a part of my shtick. That pink haze of nostalgia and boyhood,” he said in an interview before the release of the band’s seventh LP, Fading Frontier. “Now I just wanna be around adults... I’m not as interested in the pink fog of nostalgia.” On the band’s eighth album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, that feeling has perceptibly intensified.

Nostalgia, after all, fuels some of the United States’ most dangerous reactionary thinking, calling back to a perfectly homogeneous and heterosexual national image that never really existed. While Fading Frontier spoke to a dilapidated American mythos—Cox sang of “amber waves of grain” that were “turning gray”—Disappeared reckons viscerally with late capitalism’s fallout. These songs contend with the emotional and physical ramifications of life in a country that’s reiterating itself to death, one franchise reboot or startup reinvention at a time.

Co-produced by Cate Le Bon, with whom Cox shared a residency at last spring’s Marfa Myths, Disappeared rewires many of Deerhunter’s aural hallmarks. The band has often sounded either gently sprawling, as on Fading Frontier and Halcyon Digest, or aggressive and claustrophobic, as on Monomania. Here, they manage to hit both moods at once. Opener “Death in Midsummer” attends to the memories of departed friends with chimes of harpsichord and drums that sound recorded inside a refrigerator; both hit with blunt force, pulling the song inward. Beneath them, though, a piano rings out as if into wide open space, and Cox sings like he’s trying to be heard from the other side of a gymnasium. A sickly, simple guitar solo reinforces the illusion that the song takes place in both an arena and a coffin. The vertigo of the combination makes an ideal vessel for the lyrics. “They were in hills/They were in factories/They are in graves now,” Cox sings, identifying emblematic blue-collar jobs as passageways to death instead of freedom.

A spiritual sequel to Fading Frontier, Disappeared seizes on its predecessor’s cheery melodicism. Deerhunter are in their pop era now, even as their lyrics remain unflinchingly bleak. “What happens to people?/They quit holding on/What happens to people?/Their dreams turn to dark,” Cox muses against a sweet, upturned piano riff at one point. One of the album’s most bubblegum offerings, “Element,” pairs piano with a swirl of strings, amplifying the melodrama of the syrupy hook. The piano leads the vocal melody, stringing Cox’s voice along like a dancing marionette, even as he sings of “cancer words/Laid out in lines” and a “curtain call for all those lives.”

Cox maintains a forced grin for most of the album, but his pantomimed cheer never sounds phonier than on “Détournement,” where he sing-speaks through a vocal filter that dramatically lowers his pitch. Laurie Anderson has employed a similar effect for decades to produce what she calls “a voice of authority”—a mannered, reasonable man’s voice that remains distressingly calm, even in the event of a plane crash. In his own authoritative voice, Cox calls upon an air travel metaphor, too, greeting various countries around the globe with postcard phrases. He interjects fatalistic non-sequiturs: “Your struggles won’t be long/And there will be no sorrow on the other side.” He concludes with “Hello eternal return/Eternal détournement,” citing an avant-garde technique used in culture jamming: a playful reframing of cultural detritus, like advertising, intended to puncture capitalism’s sheen.

Repetition induces decay; just ask William Basinski, whose series of Disintegration Loops repeats a musical phrase on fragile tapes until holes start to obliterate the sound. The final track here, “Nocturne,” applies a similar effect to the vocals. The gaps in Cox’s voice jar the ear, while a music box riff plays uninterrupted behind him. Nothing happens to the machines, even as the walls close in and the environment seems to teeter on the verge of collapse. It’s only the body that suffers, stutters, and begins to vanish.

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