by Michael Waller
Past a certain point in a band’s career, its trajectory typically flattens out from an initial creative climb and turns for artistic longevity. In this way, 14 year-old rock band Deerhunter satisfies the expectations of its existing fans while appealing to mainstream conventions, establishing a palpable nostalgia based on their solid discography. On “Fading Frontier,” their latest record since 2013’s “Monomania,” Deerhunter opts to carve out a legacy for themselves rather than survey new artistic territory.
Deerhunter returns to their characteristic effects-drenched instrumentation augmented by lead singer Bradford Cox’s dulcet and disconcerting warbling on topics from decomposing corpses to repressed transgender fathers. All of the trappings of a Deerhunter record are here–psychedelic, tremulous, rock–but they’ve tuned down or up in and incongruous way. The dark, gurgling ambience that characterized 2010’s “Halycon Digest” takes a backseat to catchy melodies and synth pop sentiments which would be perfectly suited to commercial rock radio.
A particularly telling characteristic of Fading Frontier comes from the inclusion of R.E.M. in the chart of influences Cox drew up for the record. R.E.M.’s presence can be felt throughout in the vaguely alt, status quo rock they embody and inspire. They have the sort of rock that nobody really likes or dislikes all that much and consequently never complains about and can even kind of mindlessly enjoy in the background.
Now, that’s not to say Fading Frontier isn’t good or enjoyable; it’s just not that good and not that enjoyable. It satisfies the craving for a new Deerhunter record, both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand there’s new material to consume but after digestion “Fading Frontier” fails to generate renewed hunger for another Deerhunter record to follow as rapidly as this one did “Monomania.”
There’s plenty to enjoy, especially if done so without paying much direct attention. The album begins immediately in an easy listening mode, transitioning from the unadorned rock and roll dryness of opener “All the Same” to the derivative synth pop of “Living My Life” with a melody so predictable that the casual listener can piece it together completely before even having heard it once through. In this style, Deerhunter presents “Fading Frontier” as an easy-access point for new fans, as well as a suitable piece of background noise for their dedicated followers to do the dishes to.
Michael Waller is a Staff Writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org