Collected Works: Music
A swirling, mid-register drone circles aimlessly, punctuated by low, ominous piano notes. Caught in the repetition, a drug addict seeks a hit from a familiar dealer. On the sidewalk nearby, a Christian preacher informs the sinners who pass of their fate, of a burning lake ‘where the fire is never quenched and the worm dieth not’. We hear the honking of horns and the screeching of tyres, then the transaction is clinched as the drone fades. Impulses die down for now, but their imminent return seems likely.
Sunbather is built on such highs and lows, alternating between extended passages of cacophonous euphoria and shorter sections of agitated anticipation. ‘Dream House’, the first track, begins with pummelling percussion and electric guitar chords. A bass drum pounds at a superhuman velocity, amid patterns of distortion. The vocal screams seem torn between joy and horror. Deciphering the lyrics, we may interpret this ambivalence as alcoholism: ‘Hindered by sober restlessness / Submitting to the amber crutch.’
At its loudest moments, the album’s sheer density and volume strive to elevate noise to the sublime. These sonic peaks tilt on a knife edge, turning from uplifting to terrifying in an instant. Deafheaven exploit this duality in order to create abrupt shifts of mood, often through only the subtlest of harmonic movements. At times they cut off or change course abruptly, as if losing motivation. They aim for perfection but shy away, realising, perhaps like the sunbather of the title, that such flawlessness is ultimately unreachable.
The walls of sound are offset by pieces like ‘Please Remember’, with spoken words and the soft fingerpicking of an acoustic guitar. As soon as one need is fulfilled, we are pushed in the opposite direction, to experience both extremes. Contrast dominates, and with it comes exhilaration. Just as the scene in ‘Windows’ gives us a glimpse into the lives of an evangelist and an addict, Sunbather shares with us the musical equal of spiritual or narcotic ecstasy. Deafheaven straps us in, and we feel the thrill shoot up as they score.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe & John Wadsworth
Question of the day
The Man Who Died in His Boat by Grouper. Strummed guitar and vocals awash with reverb; a haunting collection inspired by a neglected coastal cabin and the sailboat wreckage found nearby. (→)
– John Wadsworth, Silent Frame's Editor-in-Chief (via Patreon →)