Deafheaven make me laugh, they do. First you don your musical critique cap to succinctly archive your favourite albums of the year so far, then one band is there to keep you waiting beyond that point to deliver one of 2018’s diamonds in the rough. Then again, more fool me; the Bay Area outfit aren’t shy of long-winded album cycles, continually developing their craft to build on a discography that’s as beautiful as it is dense. 3 years on from New Bermuda, we can finally pick the ripened fruit of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
Without getting too sycophantic, Deafheaven’s first drop of sweetness came courtesy of Honeycomb a short while back. A sprawling 11-minute epic has never been beyond the group since the debut days of Roads to Judah, nor has their intricately balanced liquor of ethereal soundscapes and draw-dropping, snarling, blackened, harsh instrumentation. But amongst that, this lead single saw guitarists Shiv Mehra and Kerry McCoy seemingly having a bit of a splash about in the pool after bathing in the sun for too long. Unfunny band-related jokes aside, the solo work on this track brought us some stadium rock n’ roll; a style that was relatively unforeseen, banterous, yet so naturally engrained in their progression that fans knew that the musical revolutionaries weren’t complete with their revolution just yet. Certainly, it turned out to be a taster for more: that same glossy, Slash-esque axeman parading has even found its way onto opener You Without End, amongst a well-built anti-cacophony of piano, slide guitar and George Clarke’s signature distant sneers.
‘Deafheaven have taken their pure essence – a combination of cherubic and demonic – to new heights’
As far as well-built albums go, 2013’s instantaneous classic Sunbather – one of that year’s most highly revered outings that continues to impress – is up there. McCoy and Clarke, as a duo, produced four signature Deafheaven beauties (isn’t the opener “like a dream”?) connected by three studio written interval tracks. For those that still “want to dream”, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love harkens back to a similar structure of their ground-breaking masterpiece, yet seemingly adding far more substance to these interludes. You Without End’s aforementioned inclusion of Clarke’s shrieks amongst its soothing dreamlike build, and teeny-tiny cymbal soundgasms from underrated blast beat leg-day fanatic Daniel Tracy, make it a complete song of its own, alongside the doomy church-service hymn Night People featuring a welcome turn from gothic songstress Chelsea Wolfe. These substantial sprinkles (4 minute-minimum sprinkles at least) give what I feel Sunbather lacks on repeated listens: awe-inspiring tracks in their own right, only accentuated from the album’s ability to transport you to another plane across its full hour-long journey.
This fourth full-length begins with a reading of Nor-Cal life by actress Nadia Kury, a soft-wind, ‘let’s admire the birds and the sky today’ tone which encapsulates the album’s full meaning. Taking pride in their ability to transcend boundaries, Deafheaven hereby finally seem comfortable. The trve kvlt vs hipster debate will no doubt continue amongst the fanbase, but it’s as if the band don’t give a fuck anymore, letting the beauties of their hometown – through the recorded sound effects and citizens-of-Oakland album artwork – do the talking. Whilst pop punk bands talk about the angsty struggles of boring life in the suburbs, Deafheaven celebrate it, and throw burgeoning blackened shoegaze at it, too. Not so much doing the talking as draining his vocal chords is George Clarke, whose unintelligible vocals hide such wonderfully packaged nuggets of lyrical imagery, literary in its treatment of the natural world and human nature combined:
“I have wondered about the language of flowers, and you, elaborate mosaic, greeting me […] on and on we choke on an everlasting handsome night, my lover’s blood rushes right through me”
That’s just one instance from the highly praised second single Canary Yellow, yet it’s unsurprising to discover Deafheaven’s novelist tendencies with Clarke’s namedropping of Julio Cortázar and Graham Greene, after whom the album gains its name. It’s an album title that so aptly represents essence, and the band have taken their pure essence – a combination of cherubic and demonic – to new heights here, a level to which will only increase with further listens as it continues to coil around the listener’s eardrums, embrace them, and escort them on a hazy trip through a humanistic self-discovery. As New Bermuda’s darkness brings you down to more crushing, innate rage further and further, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love picks you up, and makes you notice that amongst the world’s problems, you can still feed bread to the geese bread from your local park bench (see: Honeycomb).
The band has come to represent duality through the years, and whilst we have sadness and we have grief, we also have optimism and light. You know what else we have? Brilliant, thought-provoking and enduring music. When you combine all of these things, that’s when you know you have discovered the spirit of Deafheaven.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is available to stream over at NPR.