Graded on a Curve: Deerhunter,
Fading Frontier

Well don’t I feel like a dummy. Here I was turning on the 2015 release of Fading Frontier by Deerhunter, which has been touted as an experimental noise rock band, and I’m like, “Where’s the noise? Who forgot to bring the noise? Was the noise in the bathroom doing lines of coke when Fading Frontier was recorded? Out scoring a big slice of pizza? Or standing in the scuzzy alley behind the studio, sucking on a joint?

Because to my noise-jaded ears Deerhunter sound friendly, like a dog with matted fur you can pet on the street, and even danceable at times. Beyond “Leather and Wood,” which reminds me of a Sparklehorse tune, Fading Frontier is practically an easy-listening LP.

Don’t get me wrong. I like parts of the LP, especially the super-funky “Snakeskin” and the dance-friendly “Living My Life,” to say nothing of opener “All the Same,” which rocks, and “Carrion,” which boasts a lovely melody and is a great way to shut the LP down. And then there’s the cosmically cool “Ad Astra,” which will make the perfect atmospheric tune for your next acid trip.

I suppose the joke is on me, for paying attention to labels which mean nothing, but to yours truly the words “experimental noise rock” bring to mind Ceramic Dog or, on the more pure noise ROCK side of the spectrum, Cows and Killdozer. What Deerhunter is pandering, on the other hand, at least on Fading Frontier, is for the most part too smooth and soothing, and is far from designed to cause you to punch holes in the walls of your apartment.

That out of the way, a few words about the Atlanta-based band’s seventh album. It’s what critics like to call a “departure,” insofar as the echoing vocals and odd noises that characterized 2013’s Monomania are nowhere in evidence. Now THERE you’ve got yourself some noise rock. But Deerhunter are obviously trying to expand their fan base by becoming more accessible, which I think is a tragic mistake. Check out Monomania’s “Leather Jacket II” if you don’t believe me.

A quick rundown of the LP’s tunes and I’m outta here. “All the Same” is a mid-tempo tune with some guitars that kick in while lead singer Bradford Cox is doing his thing. Cox sings about a friend’s dad who got a sex change operation while the band rumbles behind him, while the dreamy and beat-heavy “Living My Life” drones its way into one very danceable tune. “Breaker” reminds me of Sparklehorse, but not very good Sparklehorse, while the brighter “Duplex Planet” will sweep you happily along. “Take Care” simply bores me, while “Snakeskin,” the LP’s standout track, lays some heavy funk rock on ya. One of my favorite songs of 2015, this one.

Overall, Fading Frontier is more than a departure from 2013’s Monomania—it’s a no-holds-barred bid for popular success. It won mucho critical plaudits but I’m ambivalent about it; I prefer the more twisted and lo-fi aesthetic of Monomania and its predecessors. But on Fading Frontier Deerhunter emerge from whatever weird psychedelic garage they’ve been dwelling in and melodically declare their intention to take over the world.

Which is what bands do, grow up. Smooth the rough edges. Leave the weirdness behind. That’s life. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Fading Frontier is a perfectly good LP. It’s slicker than Herbie Mann’s oiled chest pelt on his Push Push LP, and it leaves its more perverse predecessors by the side of the ride, from whence they wave a sad goodbye. But with the exception of “Snakeskin” Fading Frontier has nothing on it nearly half as fascinating as the title track of Monomania or “Leather Jacket II,” which is too bad.

Let’s just call Deerhunter another band I discovered just in time to miss the boat, leaving me with no option but to jump into the fire, and be done with it. That said, I suspect I’m going to have me some fun listening to their older stuff. Keep Atlanta Weird!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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