In Japanese, there is a phrase, “Koi No Yokan.” From what I understand, there isn’t an exact, literal English translation, but if one were to rough it out, they’d get something along the lines of, “premonition of love”.
The first time I heard Deafheaven’s music, I felt this. I knew it, wholly.
I’d missed, “Sunbather”, the band’s breakthrough, when the album originally came out in 2013, but I only needed to hear about 3 seconds of, “Dreamhouse”, a year later, to know what time it was.
For my money, amongst the more tremendous musical statements of the past 20 years, “Dreamhouse” is something unto itself. It’s not like what Deafheaven does in that song has never been done before (see Alcest), it’s just that no one had ever done it in quite that way.
It’s the specifics of the volume, the speed, and the dynamics. The drumming is near impossible, and the buzzsaw guitars smolder, sounding as though they’re sinking to the core of the sun, awash in equal parts bliss and rage.
It’s incredible, and I have nothing but appreciation for it. That said, I think, “New Bermuda” is a better album– it’s tighter and more focused.
Up front, the lyrics are pretty bleak. This isn’t to say that Sunbather’s lyrics are not, but here, singer and lyricist George Clarke is just in no way a happy person, and he’s letting you know about it.
As the album’s lyrics are screamed and/or shouted, you really can’t make things out, unless you have a lyric sheet on hand. It’s actually a fairly rewarding experience, reading along as you listen, and I’d encourage it. Clarke’s lyrics are often poetic, and in certain instances, they brush up against what I’d call uncommon beauty.
The album begins with “Brought to the Water.” It’s not the same statement that “Dream House” is, but I recall being on board with it the first time I heard it, especially once drummer Daniel Tracy starts weaving that ever-so-pretty tapestry around the halfway mark in the song.
Tracy’s contribution to breakdown that occurs in “Brought to the Water” is not unlike something Mike Clarke or Jack DeJohnette might have come up with in the early part of the 1970s. It might not technically be considered, “linear drumming”, but it has the artistry of the approach— the delicacy playing against the power, the technicality, and just generally delicious flavor. It’s also some gutter-ass shit, that offers a fairly unique bed (of nails) upon which the riffs of the guitars/bass and screams of George Clarke can bounce (or dive-bomb).
The album’s second song, “Luna”, begins with the best riff that James Hetfield didn’t write for “Kill Em’ All”, careening full speed towards the dreamiest guitar parts that Robin Guthrie didn’t write for Cocteau Twins’ “Treasure”.
To be clear, calling to attention these other musicians and bands is not to make it appear as though the band is strictly a derivative act. They have a wide range of influences, and much of the album’s joy (at least for me) is to be found in where particularly they pull from.
In any case, the song goes from brutal to beautiful and back, teeing up the only song on the album that I believe to be just okay, “Baby Blue.”
To be clear, it’s not a bad song. It’s just fine, and any number of band’s would probably be very pleased to have it grace the middle of their album. It simply has the misfortune of being sandwiched between four pieces of music that rank amongst the best things that the band has recorded. To its credit, once Kerry McCoy finishes his lone guitar solo on the album (a pretty solid sing-song worthy one at that) his lead turns molten, approximating a young John McLaughlin circa 1973ish, where he was said to play through his amp in “meltdown” mode. It’s certainly, the highlight of the track, and an appropriate finish.
After “Baby Blue”, we are treated to “Come Back”. The song begins with utter, unrepentant violence, before giving way to the aural equivalent of an Oregon ocean panorama with some sea gulls, and the deep blue sea.
There might be a cup of earl grey, a Carthatt hat, and some Red Wings in the mix too, hard to say.
There’s slide guitar too— ghostly, contemplative, wistful slide guitar, that allows the album perhaps its second most beautiful moment.
And then there’s “Gifts for the Earth”.
I had my first transcendent (transcendental?) meditation experience, listening to this song. Meditating in my office while listening to a slowed version of the song, I saw a sun explode in my mind’s eyes, one that showered me with fluttering light. I physically felt this light too, mind you— a bodily warmth came over me, though some part of my brain felt as though I was submerged in water, as a recall moving every so slightly in my seat in the moment, feeling as though there was something outside the space of the room, like liquid pushing back against me.
This almost brought me to tears, and attempting to explain what I was feeling to my co-worker in the room with me after the fact was… interesting.
For those still reading, that really happened, and no drugs were involved.
In any case, I tell that story to attempt to illustrate the power inherent in that piece of music. It’s perhaps the band’s crowning achievement, an alternately jacked-up and delicate meditation on death, and becoming one with the earth in our passing. It’s Interpol, Deftones, and Mogwai rolled into one: an outrageous, scorching, closing statement.
In writing this, I wonder about why it is that I take such joy, and find such triumph in such a patently sad set of songs.
Realistically, it has something to do with the fact that the album is intrinsically tied up with a woman who it seems destined to rattle around the inside of my brain for an undefined duration of time.
Throughout the early part of our relationship, Deafheaven was our band, and in hearing these songs, I can’t help but remember what it was like to fall in love with her.
These songs recall a beginning, not an end, and there will always be some sort of wistful feeling associated with the music, no matter how grim said music may be.
I don’t have much else outside of that, so I’ll simply say that this is a tremendous piece of music that’s worthy of your attention.