By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor
Key tracks: “Death in Midsummer”, “What Happens to People?”, “Nocturne”
Ethereal visions of the past have always played a principal role in the theatrics of Deerhunter. However, the experimental rock group’s eighth album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, demonstrates that the urgency of the present is an expedition worth undertaking. Throughout this journey, the combination of acoustic guitar, synthesizers and classical instruments makes for an experience that sits somewhere between a lo-fi gothic basement show and a robotic cowboy’s adventure. Topping off this concoction are bleak imagery and cryptic narratives, making this mixture a potent one.
As synthesizers hum a mischievous whirr — sometimes crying out and entering the foreground of the mix — stories such as “Death in Midsummer” unfold with mysterious familiarity. Listeners have already made an acquaintance out of this narrative because it, like much of the record, is one they are living in. As frontman Bradford Cox explains in his interview with NPR, it is a song about “people . . . caught in the crossfire” of “political push-and-shoves.” Equally grim are “Plains” and “No One’s Sleeping”, which discuss the “last stand” of James Dean and the murder of Jo Cox respectively.
Throughout this darkness, Deerhunter never force the listener to trudge through gloomy despair. Instead, an invitation to dance is cordially extended. Generally upbeat and playful, the music supporting Cox’s lyrics is curiously quirky. A juxtaposition is created, but it should not be mistaken for apathy or indifference. The peculiar murmuring that unfolds throughout Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is the ideal soundscape for an album adjacent with post-apocalyptic sensibilities.
Within this soundscape, there are some uncomfortable constraints. At times, it feels like the music is held captive in a box; instances in which grandeur will surely ensue sometimes end up as another four measures of the same instrumentation. This stylistic choice is made more dramatic by the brevity of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, which clocks in at 36 minutes long.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of moments in which the delivery is everything one could hope for. The album’s climax, “Nocturne”, volleys its last thoughts in an instrumental that manages to be both digital and angelic. Tracks such as “Détournement” and “Tarnung” allow their noise to disseminate until it falls into a steady structure, bringing xylophones and saxophones to bear in a dejected trance state.
As intangible as it feels, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is one of the most authentic records in Deerhunter’s repertoire. Its true message is more of a question: “What Happens to People”, or rather, what has happened to make people the way they are now? Humans have created a world in which 7.5 billion people still feels like a wasteland devoid of emotion or responsibility. Maybe this anguish is what allows Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? to feel like a journey through the futuristic badlands without ever referencing such a fantasy. In all this wretchedness, “your cage is what you make it.”