Making a great album is hard, and repeating that greatness is even harder. Time after time, we’ve seen artists emerge with immaculate debuts, only to follow up with something less than spectacular. It’s rare to find a musician or musical group that can consistently pump out quality albums, which is why legendary bands like Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Radiohead deserve the respect they receive from the musical community. With their eighth full-length studio album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, Deerhunter has, yet again, delivered a great musical work of art, solidifying the Georgia-based outfit as one today’s most consistent rock bands.
Over the past 18 years, Deerhunter has transcended genres, added band members, lost band members (RIP Justin Bosworth and Josh Fauver), and signed to three different record labels. Among all of that change, one thing has remained consistent; the songs and how they miraculously mesh together to form cohesive albums. There are few bands from the 2000s with a discography as extensive and tremendous. From the ambient, noisy psychedelia of Cryptograms to the fluid, lush brilliance of Microcatle and Weird Era Cont to the masterful pop songwriting of Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter has proven multiple times that they can repeatedly release great music, even when experimenting with new sounds and concepts they’ve never experimented with before.
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? isn’t Deerhunter’s best effort. In fact, it’s far from it. However, it’s still a great album and a fine addition to the band’s accomplished discography. It’s a record with a lot to say in its 10 tracks, tackling a variety of concepts, including the decline of civilization, disappearance of emotions, destruction of the environment, and rejection of nostalgia.
“Death in Midsummer,” the album’s opener begins with guitarist and lead vocalist Bradford Cox crooning “Come on down from that cloud/ And cast your fears aside/ You’re all here and there/ And there’s nothing inside” over a simple harpsicord riff. It’s a gorgeously solemn opening to a track that later explodes into exuberance, with Cox recounting the gruesomeness of the Russian Revolution over pounding drums and a ringing piano. It climaxes with a fuzzy, simple guitar solo before snapping back to Cox morosely bellowing “They were in hills/ they were in factories/ they are in graves now.”
About halfway through, the record peaks with the murky, haunting “Element,” a track about environmental decay. Cox hisses “The wind was stained/ Orange clouds laid out for a toxic view” in the opening moments, painting a vivid, disturbing picture of our severely polluted environment. To close it out, he coldly repeats “It’s elemental how I move” over a reverb-doused guitar riff and rhythmic drum beat. It’s almost sounds as if he’s collectedly strutting across the studio as he utters the words.
Right after that comes another highlight, “What Happens to People?” A jingly piano riff lays the foundation for this tender, melancholic tune that asks questions about what happens when society gives up and stops caring, as well as delves into how people die and fade out of memory. In an interview with Consequence of Sound leading up to the album, Cox hinted that the song was written after a “very specific tragedy,” but prefers that the meaning behind it be left open for interpretation by the listener.
Picking up the pace again is “Futurism,” an upbeat, catchy denouncement of nostalgia. Possibly the most straightforward and accessible piece on the record, it juxtaposes a lighthearted instrumental, composed of a steady bass line and chiming guitar, riff over dreary lyrics about your cage being what you make it and permeating carnage. It’s followed by the angelic “Tarnung,” Lockett Pundt’s only songwriting contribution on the album, which features harmonic, choir-like vocals over vibraphone and saxophone.
The penultimate track, “Plains,” is Deerhunter at its poppiest. Blending hand percussion with airy synths and a smooth, funky guitar riff, it’s one of the livelier and more upbeat songs on the record. Lyrically, it depicts James Dean filming his final film, Giant, in Marfa, Texas just months before his death. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this track is the influence of Whitney Houston on the instrumental arrangements. Album co-producer Ben Etter noted on Twitter that the song was written with Houston in mind, and that the studio was plastered with pictures of her during its recording.
One of my only complaints with Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is that the closing track, “Nocturne,” is one of the weakest on the album. This is odd for a band with a track record of outstanding closers (“Heatherwood,” “The Twilight at Carbon Lake,” “He Would Have Laughed,” etc.). It’s not that it’s bad; it actually finishes quite strong with a melodic mixture of piano and synth that momentously carries you to the album’s finish line. Everything before that, however, sounds sloppy and disjointed. I understand that this was intentional, but it just didn’t do it for me.
In essence, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? displays a move towards more pop-inspired, conventional instrumentation, while still keeping focus on the cryptic, vivid, and disturbing lyrics that Deerhunter have leveraged in their music for nearly 20 years. It doesn’t reach the same heights as some of the band’s more notable works, and that’s ok because it’s still better than most alternative rock records I’ve heard in the past several months. And that’s a testament to how special Deerhunter is.
Favorite Tracks: Death in Midsummer, Element, Futurism, What Happens to People
Did you listen to this album? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!