Masterminded by frontman Bradford Cox, the freaky Atlanta band’s seventh album is bruised and brilliant
Musically, there’s not much connective tissue between Deerhunter’s seventh album and its predecessor, 2013’s caustic, itchy-skinned ‘Monomania’, but they do have one important thing in common: both were inspired, or at least overshadowed, by traumatic events in Bradford Cox’s personal life. The Atlanta quartet have always been a more democratic entity than their frontman’s outsized personality might make them appear, but inevitably, it’s Cox’s whims, wonts and occasional psychoses that their music takes shape around. Maybe that’s why ‘Fading Frontier’ – the most direct, unflinching album Deerhunter have ever made, and quite possibly the best – sometimes feels like the second part of a duology about breakdown and recovery, not only from the psychodrama of ‘Monomania’, but from the car accident Cox was hospitalised by last December. It’s referenced on ‘Breaker’, his winsome duet with guitarist Lockett Pundt: “Jack-knifed on the side-street crossing/ I’m still alive, and that’s something”.
If Cox doesn’t exactly sound overjoyed at his survival, that’s because ‘Fading Frontier’ isn’t about embracing some newfound lease on life; it’s about the long, slow catharsis of licking your wounds. The idea of being a “mole in the ground”, a line from an old song by country musician Bascom Lamar Lunsford, appears prominently towards the end of the album, mentioned in the lyrics of ‘Carrion’ and tacked onto the end of ‘Ad Astra’, Pundt’s hypnagogic synth-drone centrepiece. It reinforces an already-established theme of reclusiveness and retreat: when Cox sings “I’m off the grid, I’m out of range”, on the shimmering ‘Living My Life’, it’s meant to sound euphoric, but the reality of that decision seems to be a lingering sense of loneliness and resignation.
‘Fading Frontier’ is certainly bleak, and full of lyrics about being overwhelmed, or giving in, most pointedly on the balladeering dream-pop of ‘Take Care’, which is styled as a woozy, out-of-body embrace of oblivion. Even the lascivious white funk of ‘Snakeskin’, a song that moves with the purpose and swagger of Iggy Pop on his way to score smack, talks of being “born already nailed to the cross” and winds up abandoned and enfeebled in a nursing home (a phobia that also pops up on ‘Duplex Planet’). More often, however, there’s a fatalistic determination to persevere: “Even though you’re gone, I still carrion”, goes the blackly-humorous ‘Carrion’, a song that’s battered, bruised and attracting flies, but still moving forward. It’s a bittersweet end to a remarkable album, one that only grows more awesome with each listen. You wouldn’t want to live on this frontier, but there’s something about the desolate beauty of the place that keeps calling you back regardless.