Deafheaven’s modern classic ‘Sunbather’ has tumultuous, heart-wrecking emotion

deafheavenOne of the great parts about doing a blog or webzine like this is that you get to hear a lot of records, some of them good, some of them bad, some of them somewhere in the middle. But each year, you have a handful or so opportunities to hear something really special, a record that’ll stick with you well into December and probably even further than that.

There also are those rare moments when you get a record that is life-changing, that makes you re-evaluate every other record and band you’ve heard so far during a calendar year. A record so special you feel bad for everything else that came out because, as good as those albums have been, they can’t hold a candle to this. A record that will go into the annals as one of your all-time favorite recordings, one that you’ll remember where you were the first time you heard it. We have that right now with “Sunbather,” the second full-length effort from Deafheaven, the brilliant San Francisco-based band that has captured hearts and imaginations everywhere ever since their incredible demo dropped a few years ago.

Look, you’re bound to hear a lot of people go insane giving this record praise the next few weeks, and that might make you skeptical and even want to reject it based on all that love. Don’t do that. Remember, sometimes a great record gets praise because it is just that, and incredible piece of work, and “Sunbather” is a document that the extreme music landscape is not likely to match this year, and it might even be one the band has a tough time equaling. But who cares? This is their signature release, their immortal moment, the album they were born to make. And is it ever incredible.

desfheaven albumYes, the band still specializes in banshee-style black metal that will wreck your soul, but they also have bits of Explosions in the Sky/MONO-style drama, Smiths-esque darkness and depression, and a musical presentation that would do incredible on major stages but probably hits home a little better inside a small, intimate venue, where these guys can reach out and ruin you personally. The band is George Clarke, whose gargantuan wails and screams sound like they are the product of a lifetime of tumult and striving for greater understanding, Kerry McCoy, his long-standing creative partner in this band, who gives Deafheaven their gigantic sound, and Daniel Tracy, who hammers the majestic shit out of his drumkit on this record. These songs are astonishing pieces of art that yearn to be heard and understood, and for those of us who relate, it’s quite a catharsis. It’s like nothing you will have heard before.

There is no bringing you into this record easily, as “Dream House” bursts from the seams with colorful yet violent riffing, drumming that sounds like it’s channeling an earthquake, and emotionally gushing shrieking from Clarke that’ll grab you and never let go. I saw some criticism about the vocals in a few places because there’s so much screaming. There should be screaming. Listen to this display! There are demons being excised forcefully, life and anguish Clarke is putting into his every jagged word. This is real bloodletting, and it needs to sound genuine. He cannot get more real if he tried. That flows into instrumental interlude “Irresistible,” that sounds like it’s built off slowed-down Johnny Marr melodies. You feel every drip of this piece, and it’s a gorgeous stage-setter for the charred title cut, where Clarke sees gigantic houses, rich neighborhoods, and a lonely sunbather whose life he tries to imagine. It’s creepy, violent, and unsettling, and it’s one fuck of a stunning song. The following instrumental “Please Remember” has an old art film-style reading by Stephane Paut, a relentless motor that grinds until you can’t take anymore, and then a flowing ocean of sound in which you’ll get lost.

“Vertigo” kicks off record two, and I do recommend you get this on vinyl for its incredible packaging and spacious sound. It’s the way to go. You don’t feel dizzy and nauseous despite the title, and instead you might feel like you’re floating through space on some sort of adventure. The first few minutes are like film score music designed to make your heart flutter and skip a few beats, and the whole things builds beautifully before it bursts open into a blue and black inferno, with the melodies grabbing your soul and pulling you headlong into its cosmic trip. Clarke’s shrieks are both human and alien, while the damaged music that sounds like it’s played on a reel stretched a little too far, folds into soloing that should make every Bay Area thrash legend jealous. Such a powerful piece, and that bleeds into instrumental “Windows,” a barrier, and a strong one, before it feeds you one of the most devastating, heart-melting father-son tales you’ll ever hear in “The Pecan Tree.” In this crushing closer, you can feel the insurmountable distance between parent and offspring, the horrible disappointment and disillusionment with a familiar institution that did not play out the way people tell us it should. Even if you haven’t been through this pain—I haven’t at all, but I have seen others endure this—you’ll crumble under the weight of Clarke’s words when he howls, “I am my father’s son/I am no one/I cannot love/It’s in my blood.” Full collapse. Right then and there.

“Sunbather” cannot be over-hyped and over-praised. It’s a landmark recording. It’s a masterpiece for Deafheaven, whose relatively small output thus far already has been incredibly powerful. I can’t get this record out of my system. I can’t get a cure to rid it from my bloodstream. It’s there and it’ll remain there, and I cannot praise Deafheaven enough for making a record like this that’ll stick with me through the ages. I have never been afraid of my emotions, and I am so thankful I have found a band and record that feel the same way. What a caterwaul of human emotion.

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