Deafheaven – Sunbather
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Before we begin discussing Sunbather, I want to present a few presumptions to pre-empt a few questions you may have about Deafheaven:
1) Any compositional technique, be it growls, speed-picked guitars, plinky pianos, recitations, or any combination thereof are available and free game to all musicians regardless of their social or geographic contexts.
2) The idea that any one combination of compositional techniques will ensure a band’s success is a perception held by a certain audience, but never by a creator, and speaks to a dubious concept of how music is created.
In less words: Deafheaven are allowed to use as much black metal as they want (especially when the results are this good) and the idea that using elements of that genre was a fast track to their success is a fairly silly notion. With that out of the way, let’s get on to the music.
Sunbather is clearly, restlessly, a sophomore album. Like Ride the Lightning or Beneath the Remains, this is a young, hungry band, eager to impress and pulling it off, while also suggesting they haven’t yet reached their highest heights. They’re tugging closely to that blackened post-rock sound that brought them so much love on Roads to Judah, and yet you can feel it’s going to bend even more as they continue to find their voice.
That’s all very interesting if you’re more curious about what this means for Deafheaven’s career than your own enjoyment as a listener. The fact is, this is a very enjoyable record, RIYL the sound of your early Burzum and Mogwai records playing simultaneously. Dynamically, the record is almost exhaustingly comprehensive, exploiting a range of compositional devices from nearly-subliminal field recordings in breather tracks like the hypnotic “Windows”, to the blast-beat peaks of the album’s summit, the nearly 15-minute “Vertigo.”
Speaking of compositional vocabulary, it’s almost as if they’re running through the entire dictionary. There’s the sophomore thing again: throughout Sunbather, Deafheaven demonstrate, almost self-consciously, that they can do it all. Guitarist Kerry McCoy puts together a fairly impressive wall of guitar layers, blending disparate techniques like backwards masking, plaintive country slide, and shuddering speed-picked harmonies deftly. McCoy notes that he intentionally refrained from recycling any riffs on Sunbather, preferring to underplay a quality riff. That practice is not dissimilar from young comedians who throw out good jokes after one use. It’s a young man’s game, but it suits the record, giving it a distinct identity as a chronicle of melancholy enthusiasm, a distinctly youthful conflict of emotions.
It’s a great record as record, too; its peaks and valleys meant to be consumed as a whole. Yet due to that restless quality of perpetual melodic novelty, Sunbather feels cyclical, like you could drop into it anywhere and proceed forward and back around from that point of departure. It’s also an incredibly abstract record--George Clarke’s emotive shriek betraying a wash of impressions atop alternately hopeful and mournful walls of guitar, while never offering a precise road map to the experiences intimated therein.
The totality suggests an abundance of life experience--not yet lived, but dreamed of, perhaps signifying Clarke’s and McCoy’s relatively recent liberation from the confines of Modesto, California. Just like their Norwegian forebears, they’re railing against the stagnant, limited lives they’ve been handed. They’ve defied that fate internally and externally, evolving into musical polymaths, both terrified and optimistic about what the future holds, and patient enough to articulate that paradox. This is the next generation and it is good.
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Stream Sunbather on Invisible Oranges.