For his band’s newest release, Deerhunter’s lead singer Bradford Cox created an interactive influence map, which included R.E.M. and Tom Petty. Fading Frontier, released Friday, is the band’s convoluted attempt to join the ranks of these pop-rock titans.
Most fans agree that the Atlanta band’s crowning achievement came in 2010 with their psychedelic pop titan Halcyon Digest, but Deerhunter is anything but stagnant. The group constantly changes inspirations. Whether it was noise pop, garage rock or post-punk, each of the band’s previous six releases took on its own identity. This time around, Fading Frontier features an agreeable pop rock sound, dabbling in shoegaze to produce an accessible and consistent listen.
At the core of Fading Frontier is a pop sensibility absent from Deerhunter’s previous projects. Each track builds with layers of instrumentation, keeping guitar at its core but incorporating intricately arranged sounds. This keeps songs steady and helps create a lasting effect with listeners.
Cox’s songwriting approach for this project isn’t original. Bands such as The Flaming Lips have used similar pop formulas to create genre-defining albums such as their psychedelic pop hit The Soft Bulletin. Fading Frontier’s lead track “All The Same” exemplifies this methodology, incorporating shoegaze influence and the cock of a Remington shotgun as percussion. This sound develops into an odd but
Other songs follow suit, with “Leather and Wood” standing out because of its minimalist approach to a piano ballad as well as synths that change the track’s dynamics quickly. The album’s conclusion, “Carrion,” is arguably the standout of the album with its dark humor, bringing the record to a close with a bittersweet yet residual feeling.
The album’s uniformity slips up at some points, but most minor mistakes are forgivable. However, no lapse in judgment is as obvious as the record’s lead single “Snakeskin.” Coming out of nowhere, this song has the confidence to become a smash hit, but its funk influences and overdone percussion make it stand out for all the wrong reasons.
Cox makes up for a track’s occasionally uncomfortable sound with his poetic yet revealing lyrics. Channeling his emotions from his recent car accident into “Breaker,” Cox sings, “Jack-knifed on the side-street crossing, I’m still alive and that’s something to say, and when I die, there will be nothing to say except I tried not to waste another day,” expressing his sense of gratitude for surviving the incident. Overall, the record benefits from Cox’s in-depth songwriting, making it an experience any fan, new or old, could enjoy.
Upon first listen, some listeners could be confused with Deerhunter’s new sound, but after multiple listens it becomes apparent that Deerhunter isn’t the type of band to restrict themselves to one genre and think within the box. Fading Frontier combines layered instrumentation, Cox’s revealing lyrics and a surprisingly happy mood to build on Deerhunter’s legacy as a multifaceted group of musicians.
Rating: 4/5 stars