“Deerhunter’s ‘Timebends’ is a Hidden Gem amid Their Catalogue”

Deerhunter’s last full album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, hit us in 2019, the same year as “Timebends,” a 12-minute single released later that year. Anyway, the obvious answer to this question posed in the aforementioned album would be, “Because you’re supposed to adopt a 1970s-inspired prog rock persona and actually jam out with your band a little bit, silly goose.” Along these lines, since Cryptograms (2007), Deerhunter had been on a wicked pop streak, doling out pleasant, hooky sugariness like “Saved by Old Times”; “Helicopter” and “Pensacola,” a shtick that I think was finally starting to get a little old, by their last two albums. Sometimes you’ve gotta scrap what you’re doing and start anew, no matter who you are. 

Right away on the epic, sprawling and multifarious “Timebend,” which reminds me a little of the Psychedelic Pill album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in general style and disposition, we notice a stark shift in singer Bradford Cox’s disposition and vocal techniques. Gone is the detached penchant for metaphor and irony and in, suddenly, steps this genuine, earnest songwriter spouting emotional like a drunken old Tom Waits, or arena rock denizen. “Timebends” is a far cry from indie pop, in other words, which, we’d thought, was the band’s lone card they had left in the deck to play, based on all their work leading up. 

The track opens with piano, typically an instrument shirked by the Deerhunter aesthetic. As usual, probably, Cox’s lyrics are pretty troublesome and disturbing: “I’m made this way / By chemical joy”. But at the same time, we all know this is a band that’s at their best when things seem on the verge of collapse. The 2010s had made them too comfortable and they’d settled into a formulaic, vapid interface of selfsame pop, on their albums from late within that decade. 

“Timebends” plays like one last victorious outcry from that era to forge some artistic headway and that it exactly does. One strident facet the song has is that much of it represents just a jam, sort of like what Califone was doing with “Two Sisters Drunk on Each Other” and the title track to Heron King Blues. Amazingly, Deerhunter’s aimless noodling comes across as even more entertaining than Califone’s, with funk acting as one sovereign influence, as with the aforementioned, but an art rock technique of myriad synths and separate musical textures also giving this music some nice depth. “Timebends,” equally, gives Cox an opportunity to space out on his guitar and do more sonic exploration than he’s done probably since Cryptograms, the album that put them on the map more than a decade ago. The result is something pushed into Stephen Malkmus territory but made even trippier, hazier, and even less guitar-sounding, than Pavement, and than pretty much anything else we’ve heard in rock, up to this point. I don’t expect any band to match No Age in the way of established alterations of sound upon each subsequent album, but at least now Deerhunter is actually entering the race, and showing they’re at least still interested in making music that undulates and inspires, on a physical level. 


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