In a sentence:
All of the seemingly contradictory elements of ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’ add up to yet another strange but fascinating chapter in the history of Deerhunter and Bradford Cox.
In contrast to the deeply personal nature
of much of Bradford Cox’s work, Deerhunter’s
eighth album, bearing the curious title
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, seems concerned with the state
of the world around him and the curious late-stage capitalism and divisive
populism that currently defines life in the industrialised West. Clocking in at
a concise 36 minutes, the album seems to strike a balance between Deerhunter’s
twin, polar opposite tendencies, resolving the dreamy yet anxious expansiveness
of classics like Halcyon Digest and their
last outing, 2015’s Fading
Frontier, with the boxed-in aesthetics of an album like Monomania, and all the
while continuing the group’s poppier and less overtly nostalgic direction.
The homely, DIY feel of the record may partly be down to the involvement of Welsh artist Cate Le Bon behind the production desk, and it’s reminiscent of her last DRINKS album with White Fences’ Tim Presley (himself a guest here). Drums are muffled and dampened to the point where they sound like they’ve been taken directly from demo tapes, and unlikely combinations of instruments and musical elements rub up against each other in the mix. Happily, this approach suits the quixotic nature of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, which presents itself as an album of contrasts. Not just between previous iterations of Deerhunter, but also in being avant-garde yet strangely accessible; overtly sunny in its sonic disposition, but full of resigned fatalism in lyrical terms.
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You could hear that interaction of clashing
themes in the teaser single ‘Element’,
which manages to be both low-key and melodramatic at the same time. The album
itself goes straight into it from the first moment, the breezy harpsichords
heralding album opener ‘Death In
Midsummer’, showing off Cox’s Anglophilia, juxtaposed with dark sentiments
such as “and in time you’ll see your own
life fade away”. The hollow xylophone-esque noises and wheezing saxes on
the weird interlude ‘Tarnung’
and the delightful instrumental ‘Greenpoint
Gothic’ are two more illustrations of the group’s curious approach to this
record. It’s difficult to parse at first, only revealing its true nature to you
after numerous listens, but nobody could ever accuse Deerhunter of repeating
Bradford Cox’s forlorn vocals float wraith-like over these crooked, hazy soundscapes, uttering dismayed and apocalyptic observations about the world winding down. The lyrical aspects are almost unremittingly pessimistic, ranging from musings on the doomed James Dean on the otherwise infectious earworm ‘Plains’ to the dark warnings on ‘No One’s Sleeping’, dealing with the murder of British MP Jo Cox in 2016 amid the Brexit referendum.
When not dealing in specifics such as this,
Cox dwells on the big questions of life and its meaning. On mid-album sparkler ‘What Happens To People?’, he
answers the question with “they quit
holding on” and “their dreams turn to
dark”. Intoning in a pitched-down electronic voice, he announces on the
“there will be no sorrow on the other
side”, over dreamy washes of synthesisers. On the superficially bright
closer ‘Nocturne’, featuring
a repeating music-box riff, Cox sounds banged-up and utterly defeated and
surmises that there are “no boundaries
left to cross”, perhaps dealing with modern pop culture’s tendency to
tediously repeat and re-boot itself.
Who knows what Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? really means, but all of its seemingly contradictory elements add up to yet another strange but fascinating chapter in the history of Deerhunter and Bradford Cox, one of the 21st century’s most inscrutable songwriters. (7/10) (Ed Biggs)
Listen to Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? by Deerhunter here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Bradford Cox, Deerhunter, Ed Biggs, Javier Morales, Josh McKay, Lockett Pundt, Moses Archuleta, review, Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?
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