We’ve reached a point in musical history where independent music is starting to gather major historical significance comparable to more mainstream acts. Radiohead’s breakthrough record The Bends is 20 years old. Bjork has been active in the music industry for nearly four decades, and Beck is approaching 46 years old. Even more recent indie stars are starting to feel the age, such as Deerhunter. Active since 2001, the Atlanta group now has seven LPs under their belts, and their latest, Fading Frontier, continues the arc the band has gone through throughout its career. With each consecutive release, Deerhunter has gotten more and more direct with its sound. As a result, Fading Frontier is the not only the band’s most accessible release, but also its most serene.
Clocking in at only 34 minutes and consisting of nine tracks, Fading Frontier is a short, yet sweet, affair. While a strength at times with its charming modesty, other times this record left me hungry for more. This desire for more is magnified by the fact that there aren’t too many highlights here on Fading Frontier. Tracks like “Duplex Planet” and “Ad Astra,” the latter being the second longest track on the album, pass by without making much of an impression on the listener. Fortunately, the highlights of the album make up for the filler, which could’ve possibly been a lethal blow to an album as concise as this one. Songs like “Living My Life” and “Breaker” do the more laid-back approach of this album justice with ethereal keys, solid bass work, and some skilled songwriting from bandleader Bradford Cox, resulting in a pair of solid, dreamy pop tunes that balance catchiness and refinement to a tee. The album takes a turn for the abstract with the album’s centerpiece “Leather and Wood.” Coming in at nearly six minutes, the majority of the song is built around broken piano key plucks and ambient tones. The overall eccentricity of the track may either bore or freak out some listeners, but people willing to appreciate the atmosphere will most likely fall in love with this track. The only track that really breaks the mellow aesthetic is “Snakeskin,” whose defined groove proves that Deerhunter still has that edge that made earlier albums like Microcastle so great.
Fading Frontier doesn’t rank as the band’s greatest material. It doesn’t even come close to matching the quality of 2010’s Halcyon Digest, this album’s closest comparison. Though such an accomplishment would be near impossible, as Halcyon Digest is one of the most critically lauded rock and pop albums of the 2010s. What Fading Frontier does do is remind people that Deerhunter is still going strong after so long. There’s still passion put into the band’s material, mostly evident in Bradford Cox’s expressive vocal delivery on songs like “Snakeskin” and album closer “Carrion.” Deerhunter is here to stay, and the band seems more than comfortable with this.