Deerhunter - Fading Frontier
Between the final two tracks of this record lies a telling indicator of its mood. Ironically, the clue has little to do with Deerhunter. Surrounded by synth bleeps and radio noise, American folk traditional “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” drifts within earshot. The song longs for home and anonymity, but in this context its presence is far from comforting, and closer to some kind of BioShock nightmare. Over one hundred years later, Bradford Cox feels the same longing, yet he’s doubtful whether any such contentment can be attained. His first words here are “My home / anywhere”, setting the tone for what follows.
Three weeks before the album’s release, a self-described concept map of influences appeared on Deerhunter’s website. It covers everything from INXS to “soulless new car smell”, and has been interpreted earnestly by most critics, which I find absurd, considering Cox’s long history of trolling. (This is, of course, the man who once played “My Sharona” for an hour after a sarcastic audience request, and who dedicated an entire interview to savaging Morrissey, an artist he hardly cares for one way or the other). The map does provide some insight; it’s striking how many of its reference points allude to 80s pop/rock. Also significant is the note, placed centrally, about Cox being hit by a car late last year.
He’s since endured the depressive lows a near-death experience can cause, often made worse by an expectation of gratitude for the life you still have. Not that he’s lacking there; “Living My Life” is an affirmative chant which probably helps him more than us, and the more impressive opener resolves to turn weaknesses into virtues. Lest you fear Deerhunter have gone all Positive Role Model on us, this point is reached via tales of domestic despair and an interpersonally ruinous sex change. Though a move towards pop and away from the murky angst of Monomania is immediately clear, the innovative touches you’d expect are still present. The nine-and-a-half then seven-and-a-half-bar verses of “All the Same” subtly unsettle, especially the first couple; their extra two measures underlining Cox’s indecisive tension (“I could leave or I could stay”).
Altogether, though, Fading Frontier is frustratingly spotty. “Ad Astra” gets condemned to disappointment by the interstellar pretentions of its title, and two of the three mid-tempo rockers are unprepossessing drafts. Save yourself six minutes by skipping “Leather and Wood” in favour of “Snakeskin”. Bradford begins with a crucifixion metaphor, steals a chorus from his own solo project, while his band nimbly rides a funk groove later seasoned with backwards-tracked loops. All clocking in at a possibly coincidental 4:20, it’s the pick of this bunch. Just a pity there aren’t more competitors for that honour.