Deerhunter Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

[4AD; 2019]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: “I hate indie rock and never liked the term. I don’t consider myself a participant in indie rock”
Others: Why is there nothing rather than something?

[N]obody even fucking cares. But at the same time, I’d rather it be that way.
– Bradford Cox

The question “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?” is a plea. It’s a prayer and an entreaty. This question is not a soft statement about the blurring of reality and the virtual realms we all inhabit, some nostalgic fiction of loss as if reality were real to begin with. It asks (if we can hear) why doesn’t disappearance end, finally and at last? Why does disappearance keep on disappearing? Why does something remain at all? Why isn’t there nothing? Shouldn’t everything already have disappeared?

Like ghosts that don’t know they’re dead, the songs on Deerhunter’s Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? wander about in a well-produced limbo almost in mourning for the death they can’t die. But they don’t know it, so — and this is the saddest part about it — they become what they deplore, all loss glossed over. When Bradford Cox sings on the opening track “Death in Midsummer,” “In time, you will see your own life fade away,” only the sadness of this statement fades away and nothing more. His saccharine delivery and the jangly, harpsichord-inflected production both reify a testament of a loss that’s really quite wistful into a gleaming cascade of psychedelia that spills over with sounds that reach further into a cloying ubiquity rather than fade away. Or, rather, what fades away is the song’s very fading away. Cox can’t disappear, and the more he tries to distance himself from his sound, the more his sound becomes obtrusive, just there and concretely his, like a terse encore and nothing more.

But then again, Deerhunter have been fading away their entire career, a career that is built on the forgetting of their fading. Fading away: how the krautrock noise-pop of Cryptograms threatens at any moment to fade into the guise of its reverb or ambience. How Microcastle’s shoegaze doo-wop fades into the shimmering psych of Weird Era Cont. How Halcyon Digest clarifies the impossible memory of when you were young in “forever fades black.” And how Fading Frontiers fades into the humble repetition of a sound distilled to this comfortable mineness that’s easy to inhabit but impossible to flee. The forgetting of the fading: how everything sounds like Deerhunter and how Deerhunter sounds like everything — that car commercial history of Indie Rock and its drab corporate sheen of sameness — despite this always fading away.

When Cox sings through the sprightly piano refrain of “What Happens to People” with the answer that what happens is that “they fade out of view,” the tempo changes so gracefully and back again that it seems as if, in this emblematic Deerhunter song, there has been no fading, no away, only a honing and refining, a distilling, clearing and polishing of the perfect pop song that we already know in advance. Anthemic and lustrous, its spry piano-driven melody and marimba bridge trace the very structure of our musical fore-hearing. We’ve heard this song in advance. Perhaps for this reason, Deerhunter can’t disappear. They themselves are the apparatus of disappearance. Or rather, they disappeared many years ago, but still continue to exert a clandestine influence as a trace that infiltrating everything prevents anything from fading.

A partial index of fading:

1.13 (“their lives fade”), 1.18 (“your own life fades”), 1.32,34 (“feel how it fades”), 1.33,35 (“see what’s fading”), 5.12 (“fade out of view”), 8.6 (“a place to fade away), 8.7 (“fade into gold light”)

Forever reaching for the gold / Forever fades black / And comes up cold
– Bradford Cox

At 2 AM in Primm Nevada, November 1996, at Whiskey Pete’s Casino, 400 people lay on the floor to hear Jean Baudrillard, clad in a “gold lamé Liberace suit,” deliver a lecture on the Demise of the Real. Chris Kraus, filmmaker, author of beloved I Love Dick, and host of this philosophy conference that was also somehow a rave, describes the response to the lecture as “ecstatic,” even though “because of the drugs, the lateness of the hour, Jean’s heavy French accent, the bad last-minute translation and the fact that few of us were trained as philosophers, the people assembled at best heard every fifth word.”

At this event called Chance, DJ Spooky performed a keynote address in the form of a massive illbient set in the afternoon to an audience of clinking coins and incredulous HELLO-OO’s, we might imagine. A mathematician who was also a rollerblader presented a paper on chaos theory. Also present was a Wall Street stockbroker who manipulated inchoate capital with the same theory. An environmental activist and staunch opposition to nuclear waste developments who was the chairman to the Moapa band of the Paiutes, on whose land Vegas flourishes its debauchery, led a walk in the desert. Later, the Mike Kelley-led Chance Band backed up Baudrillard as he repeated fragments from his lecture, of which Kraus only recalls the words, Suicide… Suicide Moi.

Somehow all of this is more than coherent, despite the sleazy admixture of kitsch, French theory, and ostentatious glitz. Baudrillard is, after all, the postmodern de Tocqueville, purveyor of what America means: resplendent irreality, trash, and the Demise of the Real. And it makes more than sense that a lecture on the Demise of the Real could persuasively happen there where the real will still have been decisively eviscerated: a space of glamour, capital, Mormons, whiteness, genocide, gambling, nuclear disaster, murder, water theft, wage theft, lights, perfect, xxx, wow, fun, bright, fantastic. At this chance event, the demise of the real was witnessed.

The themes of this lecture find their realization in the last piece Baudrillard would write, a slight volume titled Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? — the same title in which Bradford Cox would wrap up these songs that disappear in the course of their duration but don’t know they’re nothing and just keep on disappearing.

Consider Baudrillard’s thoughts on art in this essay:

Art itself in the modern period exists only on the basis of its disappearance — not just the art of making the real disappear and supplanting it with another scene, but the art of abolishing itself in the course of its practice. It was by doing this that it constituted an event, that it was of decisive importance. I say ‘was’ advisedly, for art today, though it has disappeared, doesn’t know it has disappeared and — this is the worst of it — continues on its trajectory in a vegetative state.

When an affected, peaceful voice in the Laurie Anderson-inspired New Age spa commercial “Détournement” tells us “There’s some form of art left,” we’d really like to believe it and its sentiment. But for a song that attempts to inherit the Situationist International in such a way as to be one of those works beyond which the SI would have strived to go, we hope this isn’t that form. But it might be fitting that closing track “Nocturne” attempts to abolish itself and witness its disappearance in a manner that isn’t as stately or vegetative as the others. Erasing his voice in dizzy dis-ease — “dis — — ea — — ” — and splitting and severing its continuity and boundaries — “bou — — ndary” — a grating, fading voice clashing with the song’s adamant motorik advance over synth lines both urgent and somber. Cox accomplishes nothing less than closure, if not disappearance.

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