There’s no question that Deerhunter are deep thinkers. The title of this, the band’s eighth effort, makes that point perfectly clear. The implications dig below the surface, probing questions about the very essence of life itself during an age where nihilism runs rampant and there’s a disconnect practically everywhere — from reality, from compassion, from other individuals. “I’m gone, I’m gone, I’m gone…curtain call for all those lies,” singer Bradford Cox laments on “Elemental,” a song boasting an otherwise hypnotic refrain.
Ironically, the most paradoxical songs on the album are the most uncommonly embracing. “No One’s Sleeping” sounds almost idyllic in its delivery, a sunny yet surreal mesh of swirling tones and textures stirred up with a psychedelic set-up. No one’s sleeping, great unrest,” Cox complains. “What Happened to People” is equally enticing, a lilting melody served up with synths, keyboards and vibrant harmonies, all bound up in an eerily embracing plea for preservation and perseverance. “What happened to people? They quit holding on.”
Indeed, the only truly ominous offering comes with the dire delivery of “Detournement,” a muffled and monotonic interlude that sounds like it’s being transmitted from another dimension. There are other examples of futuristic fantasy as well—in the pulsating tempo of “Plains” and an instrumental, “Greenpoint Gothic,” the plodding pacing of “Nocturne” and the ambient and atmospheric “Tranung” in particular—but ironically, despite the heavy-handed intents, the album is surprisingly accessible overall. The arrangements generally maintain a pastoral pastiche, an uptempo feel that’s both compelling and catchy. Indeed, the shimmer that illuminates the vast majority of the material is generally elegiac. Any trauma that resides below the surface is masked in a haze of harpsichord, mellotron, piano, bells and an uplifting approach that belies the underlying issues.
Granted, the contradiction between music and message is curious and perhaps even schizophrenic. However, given the pessimism at the core of these concerns, any darker designs become far easier to digest in this melodic setting. Even in these most dire of times, an illuminating embrace can create a sense of ease and assurance.