A harsh look at humanity
If nothing else, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is an evaluation of human society. The results are in and it’s not looking great, at least according to Deerhunter vocalist and songwriter Bradford Cox.
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? tells a story of erosion and decay, from its title to its final track. Even the album art reflects Cox’s take on the current state of civilization, depicting some amorphous cloud spreading over a building, covering up and destroying what humankind has built. The album’s instrumentation is generally solid and takes some chances, but it often fails to match Cox’s lyricism, which takes center stage for most of the album. Dripping with substance, character, nihilism and weird synthesizer sounds, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? is certainly worth listening to.
“Death In Midsummer” pairs a droning acoustic riff sporting an air of tongue-in-cheek optimism with a great drum build up and strong vocal performance. The song’s ‘70s folk-rock tone is contrasted with its dark lyrical content, evoking imagery of withering settlements, decaying factories and small-town Americana–“Some worked the hills / Some worked in factories / Worked their lives away / And in time / You will see your own life fade away.”
“No One’s Sleeping” lacks some of the subtlety and poeticism of the previous track, but it continues to hammer home the theme of society’s downward spiral. “Greenpoint Gothic” trades in acoustic folk-rock for a spacey, ‘80s synth sound, which catches the listener off guard, serving as an effective curveball. Given how Cox’s lyricism stands out in the album’s first two songs, inserting an instrumental here was an interesting choice.
Cox’s disheartening view of humans is picked back up in “What Happens To People?” The song is yet another commentary on societal erosion–this time mainly focused on how people change–but Cox alludes to rusting in castles and rotting houses, conjuring more imagery of a wilting society. The line “Old man / Oil your engine / You’re rusting out” serves as a statement on the degradation of both man and machine over time.
“Detournement” takes the album off the rails slightly, indulging Cox’s proclivity for odd sounds and abstract lyricism. This one is peppered with everything from synthesizers and xylophones to creepy double-octave vocals pondering “higher spirits” and “electronic brains.” A few other tracks, including “Element” and “Tarnung,” fall into the same trap, meandering off course and failing to live up to the album’s better offerings.
“Futurism” is another standout, returning to the album’s earlier upbeat pop tonality. Once again, the instrumentation clashes with the lyrics, which has quickly become a staple of Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? The opening verse contains some of the most powerfully haunting lyrics on the record: “Your cage is what you make it /If you decorate it / It goes back faster / Goes quick, laughter / Permeates the carnage.” We’re all trapped in a cage (modern society? governance?), and the powers that be would lead you to decorate your cage, so as to make it more appealing and distract from the very fact of one’s incarceration. Cox later remarks that “You look so good in plastic,” a probable allusion to human fraudulence, such as the mask we all wear on social media, presenting our best, most curated selves to the world.
“Nocturne” concludes the album on a perplexing and depressing note. It sounds almost like an ancient relic discovered sometime in the distant future–although if Cox’s assessment is correct, there may not be anyone to listen to this song in the distant future. “Nocturne” is a standout, as it brilliantly (and quite literally) embodies the album’s primary theme of decay, represented perfectly by the vocal track cutting in and out. It’s as if Cox is reaching through your headphones to remind you that even the very song you are listening to can’t escape the harsh realities of human nature. The song talks of disease, abduction and mildew spreading like spider webs–not exactly the most uplifting ending, but certainly a fitting one.
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? isn’t likely to leave listeners feeling particularly empowered, but it is a brutally honest and thematically consistent assessment of human society. It makes for a complex, challenging and thoroughly compelling album that, in spite of some of its weaker tracks, is one of the first essential pieces of listening in 2019.