[sic] Magazine

Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

Enigmatic Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox thinks that no-one will listen to his band’s eighth LP in full as culture is dead and attention spans have been reduced to zero. Amongst other things, he’s also worried about no longer being relevant and is surprised that music in general and Deerhunter in particular still exist, hence the new album’s title: Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

At the risk of answering one question with another, where to begin? Comfortable enough mentally on 2015’s Fading Frontier to sing about being true to oneself, here he plays the manic depressive with almost annoying self-deprecation. Of course, people are going to listen to the album in full – plenty of them – as these days, despite tendencies towards the experimental, Deerhunter are a well-regarded, sophisticated band on a major indie label! And, so what if people don’t listen in the way Cox nostalgically wishes? Isn’t a band’s paying audience entitled to cherry-pick highlights from consciously more challenging material? Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? inevitably has a number of examples of both.

As to whether Deerhunter or indeed he should still bother making music at all, it feels simply like fishing for compliments. Still trolling, one minute he’s then upset at popular music’s lack of reactionary engagement, the next wilfully oblivious to the reams of perfectly attainable punk, for example, doing just this right now. The worst conclusion of at all to draw from Cox’s continual questioning though would be to see it as real self-doubt for, somewhat repeating the words in our review of Fading Frontier, Cox is known for his deception and sparring with him intellectually has often felt futile. We wondered then if the relatively easy-listening Fading Frontier was a cunning feint for an album still to come and in a way so it has proved.

Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is heavy with questions but noticeably light on answers and, running from real-world responsibility, Cox quickly reverts to abstract esotericism when much of the posturing is done, the LP’s chin-stroking liner notes falling over themselves to be impenetrably abstract. Art that requires explanation is unavoidably elitist, but in context frequently fascinating and so the Deerhunter five-piece continues to be. Is it any wonder though that some people won’t choose to frequently listen to the album the whole way through when retro-leaning synth interludes and ambient chime flotsam are purposefully sequenced into the flow? The whole may make the more compelling argument, but that’s not to say there isn’t enjoyment to be had simply dipping one’s toes into the ocean.

And that’s all without mentioning the oddball cloud of jetlagged vaporwave that is “Détournement”. Through disembodied vocal effects and nebulous synths, the ageing Cox predictably struggles with the globalised present, never mind the rushing forward of the future. He then has the nerve though to follow this up with a track called “Futurism” (featuring White Fence dude Tim Presley), which musically sounds a lot like the past. Confused yet? That’s probably the idea, adding to the playful sense of contempt for the audience on display elsewhere.

The thing is though, when he and they stop mucking about, there’s much to like as usual. With so much meta data though, it’s hard not to find straightforwardly swelling statements like the LP opener (featuring Presley’s mate and album producer-in-part Cate LeBon on harpsichord) a touch underwhelming. There are nice touches to be found everywhere however: Cox’s electronically corrupted vocal giving way to lush curtains of shimmering arrangements on “Nocturne”; the lightly psychedelic fug of guitars and percussion on “No One’s Sleeping” (a track about the murder of Labour MP Helen Cox); and, above all, in the strongly melodic standout “Element”, a lament on ecological hopelessness that’s aptly also self-described as a watercolour landscape. The introduction of mixed media here is well judged, refreshingly stimulating from an artistic point of view while, conversely, the otherwise simplistic nature of this three-minute indie-pop cut is in turn its greatest selling point.

Interpret it all how you will, but Cox and co. are no amateurs and much of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is a classy and nuanced exploration of new directions for the band, but too little of it is emotionally vital (perhaps intentionally so given the nature of the album) and, when push comes to shove, that’ll be why more people aren’t listening to it, neither in full nor potentially at all.

Best track: “Element”

~Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is released January 18th 2019 via 4AD.~