Nostalgia is dead, and Deerhunter has killed it. Or they’re doing their best, anyway. With the release of their last album, Fading Frontier, Bradford Cox swore off the dreamy, shoegazey qualitythat ran through much of their early work. Now, on Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, (★★★) he happily proclaims it dead and buried. This time around, Deerhunter find themselves squarely in the present, fixated on upheaval and transience, themes that are reflected in its brief runtime. On songs such as “What Happens to People?” and “Futurism,” they actively reject and condemn what they see as a general cultural obsession with the past.
Depending on what one wants to read into the lyrics, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? could be described as a political album, albeit an unconventional one. Its voice hovers between resignation and distress, seemingly bewildered by a world gone mad, in which chaotic politics are both cause and consequence of a wider tumult. Where Fading Frontier was fixated on decline, this album reckons with a reality of having already passed point after point of no return. In less skilled hands, the sheer bleakness of this vision would likely come off as a teen having an existential crisis, but Cox manages to keep up a sense of humor in his narration. Including himself in the joke saves the album from veering into outright sanctimony.
The pervasive cloud of thematic doom hanging over the songs sits in jarring contrast to the album’s instrumentation, which goes a long way towards making this some of Deerhunter’s most approachable work. “Death in Midsummer” is carried along by a plodding yet gleeful piano and harpsichord, and modestly upbeat keyboard work recurs throughout the album. Unfortunately, this is also where things stumble. Even in a short, lyrically sententious album, monotonous instrumentation is a difficult thing to get right, and it is sadly uneven in its execution here. “Détournement” lands it perfectly, its distorted vocals pairing perfectly with synths and guitars that unfold slowly yet purposefully. “Element,” by contrast, loses almost any sense of movement and simply slogs along — a quality which is almost indefensible in a three-minute song.
The relative simplicity of the arrangements is certainly a defensible choice from a thematic point of view. At its best, the repetition that sometimes causes the melodies to fade into the background also allows them to serve as a staging ground for the vocals, allowing some of the more visceral lyrics to land harder when they do come. But Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is always on the edge of being overwhelmed by its own monotony, and in the end, its short runtime may be the one thing preventing it from succumbing to entropy.
FIVE YEARS SINCE HER LAST release, Sharon Van Etten has returned sounding like she dropped out of a parallel universe. There’s no mistaking her distinct vocals or her incisive songwriting, but Remind Me Tomorrow (★★★★) sounds worlds removed from the folky arrangements of Are We There. Partnering up with producer John Congleton has given Van Etten a chance to play with a more complex and interesting sound, resulting in rich textures and harmonies that immediately set the album apart from the spare and intimate instrumentation that defined her previous work.
Remind Me Tomorrow is definitely a slow burn, taking shape gradually and lingering over ideas, developing each thought fully before moving on to the next. Even so, it is a highly accessible meditation on intimacy and human connection that is easy to listen to and full of enough variation to command attention. The pop-adjacent “Seventeen” is the obvious standout of the album, but the rest of the songs are just as thoughtfully composed and they all pack an emotional punch of their own.
While Van Etten may have traded guitars for analog synths, her lyrics have lost lost none of their matter-of-fact emotional depth. Her songwriting has always tended to cut to the core of relationships and neatly pick apart their inner workings, and the prosaic opener “I Told You Everything” signals that this album will be no exception. If anything, the more expansive soundscapes give her lyrics more room to breathe and allow her already powerful vocals to convey a gravitas that was impossible in intimate acoustic arrangements. If her raw observations once sounded like a confession or a secret among friends, it has taken on a more assertive tone here, demanding to be heard widely and listened to intently.
Remind Me Tomorrow and Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? are available to buy on Amazon.com and iTunes, and also on streaming services.