While I’m sure past generations and epochs each had their moments of fatalism, those moments when it felt like existence was going to just end, man, it certainly feels like we’re nearing the end phase of whatever this era is right? Not to pile on what I’m sure is your simmering existential dread, it seems like whatever children I sire will be inheriting a vastly different world than then one I came screaming into, for reasons political, environmental, philosophical, ecological and every big word for subjects that make living today a fucking drag. It’s hard to go on living, trying to make a living using your self-expression when there might not even be a world worth self-expressing to in 20 years, or even five. That central issue lies at the heart of Deerhunter’s superlative eighth album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, a quasi concept album about a world where cancer is “laid out in lines,” and people don’t have many options but to escape the mundanity of their existence in the plains.
Deerhunter making it to eight albums was not really the trajectory you’d have pegged when they blew up following 2007’s sophomore album Cryptograms. Their psych-rock, left-leaning tendencies felt combustible, like a band that would fly closely to the sun for a bit before disappearing. But in the intervening decade, they’ve quietly become one of indie rock’s most consistently great, and constantly searching, bands. They can do scuzzy garage rock (2013’s Monomania), glistening shoegaze (2010’s Halcyon Digest) and gentle classic rock (2015’s Fading Frontier). On Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? they go pastoral, delivering an album that sounds like windswept grains, like dust floating off a side road. (The music video for “Death In Midsummer” is maybe the best pairing of location and song you’ll see this quarter). The guitars are minimal and used for maximum impact, while the harpsichord and piano take center stage, which means this album is probably the most delicate Deerhunter album to date. It also might be their best.
Why Hasn’t opens with its most wide-open, sprawling song, “Death in Midsummer,” which announces the main musical theme of the album: twinkling, haunting harpsichord figures. “Death in Midsummer” builds and builds and builds until it finally tumbles into a crunchy guitar solo, the first moment fans of Fading Frontier will sit up and realize Deerhunter are here to play. From there, there’s Kinks-like provincial pop (“No One’s Sleeping”), stately stompers (“Elemental” and “Futurism”) and maybe the straight-up funkiest song in the Deerhunter songbook, “Plains,” which has a buoyant, pliable bassline and Tom Tom Club drums. Lyrically, Cox is painting vivid slices of a dystopian reality, the more of which you dive into, the more you realize isn’t from some concept album, but reality itself.
Why Hasn’t doesn’t end with any answers, the one from its title or otherwise. It’s message is in its existence. Even if everything is really going to disappear, if they are going to force us into hills or into machines, or life starts to resemble dystopian sci-fi, you still have to keep creating, and trying to make sense of it all.