Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Death. Decay. Loss. Mental illness. Optimism?
by Jericho Cerrona
Really, there’s nothing new under the sun. Just ask Bradford Cox, the lanky weirdo mastermind behind the curtain who has been making music as Deerhunter since 2001. His statements regarding physical disorders, sexuality, gender identity, and depression have become canon, but on Deerhunter’s apply titled 8th studio album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, the band conjure a certain kind of hope in not knowing.
Fatalism etches its way into nearly every track here, and even when Cox maintains a cheerful disposition (with the instrumentals following suit), it’s almost like crime scene detectives cracking macabre jokes about the deceased in order to remain sane. Paranoia and pessimism have always been a staple of Cox’s songwriting, manifesting itself in either nostalgic pop songs (Halcyon Digest) or abrasive guitar squalls (Monomania). On 2015’s Fading Frontier, electro dream-pop soundscapes were tethered to painful insecurities regarding an eroding American lifestyle. Here, Deerhunter have fully leaned into this demolished myth of the American dream; recording the entire album in Marfa, Texas while picking up matching Western hats to boot. The results are catchy enough to be reduced to “art-pop” and despairing enough to be labeled “baroque bummer rock”, but it’s really just a Deerhunter album. No matter what niche they slip into, they are always entirely themselves.
With the help of musician Cate Le Bon (who plays harpsichord on a few cuts here) and fellow DRINKS collaborator Tim Presley, the production throughout Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? follows a similar template as Fading Frontier in terms of accessibility, but with less studio polish. The tension between pastoral ambiance and krautrock-inspired grooves is apparent, as is the influence of Low-era Brian Eno. Opener “Death in Midsummer” lays down that aforementioned harpsichord along with Cox’s beguiling croon. “No One’s Sleeping” uses glistening guitar tones, horns, and a shuffling rhythm to disarming effect, since the song was written as a eulogy for murdered British politician Jo Cox. “Greenpoint Gothic” is a woozy Eno-influenced instrumental featuring drums and synths. “Element” and “What Happens to People” are pastoral dream-pop ditties conjuring both curiosity and sadness, with the later being especially representative of Cox’s uncanny ability to write earworm melodies drenched in lyrical melancholy. Other sonic detours include “Détournement” (in which Cox intones reactionary responses to our current world via robotic vocoder) and the haunting “Tarnug”, which sounds like a beautifully deranged children’s lullaby. Overall, the album’s brisk 36 minutes manages to cover a variety of sounds and emotions, but the fallout is consistent; the world is broken, and we left with more questions than answers.
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is, in many ways, a response to Halcyon Digest, considered by many to be the band’s masterpiece. The nostalgic hue permeating that record wasn’t a reactionary mistake, but more of a distillation of where Cox was at that particular time in his life. Now 36, he is older and wiser, but also more prone to debilitating hopelessness. The great strength of this record is that Cox knows unadulterated nihilism isn’t the answer. Instead, he sees the outer apocalypse in conversation with the inner one. What happens to people?/They quit holding on/What happens to people?/Their dreams turn to dark…he sings at one point. We will all die one day, the world will still be here (unless ecological destruction catches up with us), and time will stutter on. But, at the very least, we can listen wistfully to the music as we vanish into nothingness.