[sic] Magazine

Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Stick or twist? It’s a question that’s plagued Bradford Cox and his Deerhunter for a number of years. From the oddities of the psychedelic Microcastle / Weird Era, he and regular cohorts Lockett Pundt (guitar) and Moses Archuleta (drums) shifted to the subliminal indie shuffle of Halcyon Digest and then on to the garage-y distortion of Monomania. No matter the vehicle, though, Cox’s soporific vocal always sauntered through the haze to claim the credits.

Fading Frontier is a varied and easy-listening LP with its strangeness restricted to the six-minute minimalist meander of “Leather And Wood”, peculiar effects bubbling away in the background of Cox’s creaking high register and muffled mic-ing. You get the impression all the same that he’s comfortable in the setting, even more so amidst the soft beats and horizontal percussion of “Living My Life” – a track, simply, about being true to oneself. The positive, yet fragile closer, “Carrion” (which ought to be called “Carry On – Will Stay Strong”), too, plays on this same message, Cox straining his vocal chords this time for an impassioned finale.

Nonetheless Cox and co. may just be a little too at ease in their own skin in places, turning in a rather forgettable opening track before blossoming into sleepy melodies, dreamy harmonies and the warm embrace of strings on “Breaker”. Out of this lazy mirage of summertime pop, however, something quite magical appears. The slow-moseying “Ad Astra” sets Gary Numan’s synths to a spacey simmer, whilst the beautiful and toe-tapping “Take Care”, which features Broadcast’s James Cargill on suitably trippy drones, beat-matches Cox’s plod to a blissful keyboard programme and crisp percussive snaps. Always an ace up their sleeve, “Snakeskin” even goes a little Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the bouncing guitar chops offering up a surprising brand of hissing funk.

Cox is known for his deception though. He often plays the joker, yet he’s always thinking a number of moves in advance. Sparring with him intellectually has often felt futile, but Fading Frontier dials down the obvious smarts in favour of a bit of tasteful fun. So is he blowing off steam? Is Fading Frontier a cunning feint for an album still to come? Does it really matter? Enjoy Fading Frontier for what it is because Deerhunter’s poker-face is downright unplayable.

Best tracks: “Take Care” and “Carrion”

~Fading Frontier is released October 16th 2015 via 4AD.~