Album Review: Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Over the last half a decade, each Deerhunter album appears to have coincided with a traumatic period in lead-singer Bradford Cox’s life. Their 2010 album Halycon Digest and Cox’s solo 2011 album Parallax were as a result of the deaths of two close friends, while 2013’s Monomania was a manic insight into a man who had just fallen in love for the first time, with a seemingly unsavoury ending. Fading Frontier was recorded shortly after Cox had been hit by a car and so we are given a window into Cox’s “unbearable pain” following a broken pelvis and time on anti-depressants.

To say that Fading Frontier is Deerhunter’s poppiest album to date would largely be true, especially when put in direct comparison with its predecessor, the aforementioned tortured ferment that was Monomania.  However, we must contrast the apparent warming nature of the record with the largely downbeat lyrics that we hear from Cox, who chooses to focus on themes of self-weakness and feeling distant from society.

The album kicks off with ‘All The Same’, a thoroughly conventional pop song which is dragged along by an ever-so-haunting organ and is a quite perfect album-opener. Imagine what Django Django could write with a bit of care and a sense of humour and you’ll arrive at ‘All The Same’. At one point, Cox chants “You should take your handicaps / Channel them and feed them back / Till they become your strengths”, which is indicative of the general lyrical mood across Fading Frontier.

“Cox chooses to focus on themes of self-weakness and feeling distant from society”

‘Living My Life’ follows and is possibly the stand-out track on the album. It floats along almost ethereally, at somewhere between ambient electronica and trippy 90s disco. “I’m off the grid, I’m out of range”, croons Cox as we’re introduced to his disassociation with society. ‘Breaker’ follows, a real earworm of a tune, complete with large chorus and funky bassline. The next track, ‘Duplex Planet’ signals the end of the album’s golden run, with the rest of the album largely failing to live up to the perfect guitar-pop on display in these first four tracks. It’s only the downbeat and slightly uncomfortable ‘Leather and Wood’ that stands out on an otherwise average second half.

Fading Frontier is potentially the album to allow Deerhunter to break the glass ceiling that would see them hit the mainstream. It’s not perfect, and nor should it be, but it’s a fascinating insight into Bradford Cox’s state of mind, with the odd outstanding pop song chucked in for good measure.

Alex Neely

Alex is currently listening to ‘Never’ by jennylee

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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