Record #324: Deerhunter – Fading Frontier (2015)

While Deerhunter have never been a group to repeat their past, their catalogue has maintained a certain progression. From the swirling shoegaze of Cryptograms to the ragged garage punk of Monomania, the group has shed reverb and haze each release, bringing them more and more into the light. 
On the other hand, Fading Frontier might not sound much like previous releases, but it’s the first to break the progression towards less effect-heavy, straightforwardness. One might argue that Fading Frontier is Deerhunter’s dreamiest release, rife with synth textures and heavy bass grooves.

The Locket Pundt-led “Ad Astra” is a strong foray into new wave balladry (that coda though!). “Breakers” is the most crystalline piece they’ve ever done, with a breezy chorus that’s the best candidate for being used in an Apple commercial they’ve ever done. “Snakeskin” alone retains Monomania’s scuzzy funk, crashing with their first noise collage since Microcastle (“Ad Astra” has one too), an album whose weirdness makes several small returns throughout the running time.

It’s tempting to call Fading Frontier their most accessible album. It’s sleeker than anything they’ve done before (and about ten minutes shorter), and while they still get weird, they’ve learned to harness the beast of their weirdness and bend it to their will. But to call it accessible runs the risk of calling it more middle of the road, which certainly isn’t true. Maybe the middle of their own road, but who really knows where that road leads.

Record #323: Deafheaven – New Bermuda (2015)

When I first listened to this album, I dismissed it. In the face of Sunbather’s stunning rainbow of shoegaze, post rock, and black metal, New Bermuda seemed monochromatic. They seemed to be responding to purists’ claims that they were neither black or metal enough and doubled down on their metal chops. 

There are more palm muted chunks, more blast beats, more big riffs, and fewer passages of soaring brilliance. Seeing that their masterful blending of metallic and melodic elements is what attracted me to Deafheaven in the first place (and back to metal and hard music as a whole), it made little sense to me to dwell on this album. After all, there’s still Roads to Judah if I need a break from Sunbather.

But on a whim, I decided to listen to it again, and I noticed a far richer story…

All of the colors were still here–they were just shifted a shade darker. The furious black metal boil that stewed the songs on Sunbather is harder and rawer. Tracks like “Vertigo” and “Pecan Tree” seemed aggressive compared to the rest of Sunbather, but their brashness functions as New Bermuda’s starting point.

But as the record progresses, they turn down the distortion and borrow colors from alternative and post-punk. “Baby Blue” opens with a Smashing Pumpkins-esque, clean guitar arpeggio section before exploding into heaviness (now with a lead guitar line that would make Kirk Hammett green).

“Come Home” explores death metal, complete with chugging palm mutes and lower register growls, somehow managing to seam it together with their trademark metalgaze before closing with a beautiful slide guitar solo. The opening verses of “Give to Earth” almost reaches Joy Division territory with a clean, downstroked rhythm guitar and a cut time drum beat (George Clarke is screaming over this, mind you) before it explodes into wall-of-noise guitars (this IS Deafheaven after all).

All in all, despite it’s shift of scale, New Bermuda ends up feeling the same as Sunbather, even if it doesn’t always sound like it it. While it may not be as life affirming, it’s just crushingly beautiful.

Record #322: Coldplay – Parachutes (2000)

Coldplay has been accused of being many things: lame, boring, unoriginal—and much of that is true. Over the years, they have become a bloated self parody, pausing occasionally to dabble in top 40 pop (which makes sense, considering their place in pop culture).

But on their debut Parachutes, there’s no success to go to their heads, no past catalogue to lazily copy, no misguided attempts to reinvent themselves.

Parachutes is a simple record—pleasant enough, middle-of-the-road guitar pop that immediately betrays their fondness for OK Computer. There’s little exploratory ambition here: most of the sonics had already been mined by Blur, Oasis, and Radiohead.

But none of that makes Parachutes a bad record. It’s actually pretty dang good. When the opening tracks first blossoms into chiming, single note lead guitar and a refrain of “we live in a beautiful world,” it’s almost thrilling.

Much of this success can be owed to the group’s ability to reappropriate tried-and-true pop/rock tropes into something fresh. Chris Martin’s lyrics may not be the best penned, but his sky-high, delicate delivery more than makes up for it. Johnny Buckland might never rip through an incredible solo, but his minimalistic lead guitar style is flawless (see: the slide guitar in “Trouble”).

​And unlike most Coldplay records, there isn’t an out of place track on here. Rather, we have a gentle, beautiful record that serves as an excellent introduction to one of the most lauded bands of their time.