Album review: Deerhunter Fading Frontier


BRADFORD COX IS in a weird place right now. The frontman and half of the brains behind the successful indie-rock/shoegaze/noisy-dream-pop band Deerhunter was recently hit by a car and prescribed antidepressants, resulting in the loss of his sexual drive. When asked about his response to this series of events he claims “I love it. I feel outside of society.” He also claims that “I’ve never felt lonely since I’ve gotten a dog.” Even for Cox, renowned for his eccentric personality in interviews, this statement seems to be a bit confusing.

At least musically, “Fading Frontier” supports these claims. This is perhaps one of the band’s least noisy albums yet. The lo-fi ambient tracks of “Cryptograms”-era Deerhunter play a minor role in the record, acting as brief and sweet intros and codas to much more straightforward pop songs than before. Only “Leather and Wood” finds itself rooted in the past — the last third is ambient noise, jumbled conversation, and a few innocently childlike synthesizer bloops.

“Snakeskin” is a bombastic number, in which the band toys with funky, cocky, dance music for the first time. “All the Same” harkens back to the more fuzzed-out psych jams of “Microcastle,” whereas “Living my Life” and “Breaker” have the band exploring the cleaner, more inviting connotations of reverb and delay (more like beach and blankets than a stoned paranoia). A concise nine tracks carefully prevent a slip into the boring abyss.

That said, Cox’s torn emotional state shines through even the sunniest tracks on the album. He preaches “You should take your handicaps, channel them and feed them back / Till they become your strengths” but simultaneously begs “Will you tell me when you find out how to conquer all this fear?”

He also cries out “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me?” and simultaneously keeps his pain in the past tense: “I cried and I choked, I was sick and I was boney.” Or in which Cox titles a song “Carrion” but makes the pun “I still carry on” throughout the lyrics. For being so readily confrontational and open with reporters, Cox is incredibly elusive lyrically. This persuades me to believe that Cox is a very different man than his onstage persona might suggest. Perhaps the disagreeable personality he creates protects him from the undignifying removal of privacy and intimacy in the modern age of social media.

After all, the album’s title is based upon the role of uncertainty fading in the era of instant information. Perhaps Cox is attempting to stir up a little confusion of his own with his seemingly unrelated actions, lyrics, and music. Perhaps music journalism is a huge part of the frontier-erasers. Perhaps the frontier isn’t really fading at all.

Ultimately, it’s hard to feel attached to the tracks that don’t succeed in making clear what they’re saying, let alone feeling. In moments like these, it’s difficult not to compare “Frontier” to the earlier ambient punk of “Cryptograms” that captured the same sentiments of uncertainty so well. The album instead thrives when Cox erupts from his melancholy state, either settling into a dazzling pleasantness (“Breaker,” “Living my Life”), or a flamboyant energy

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