Sunbather is a record that, maybe more than most, captures what it feels like to be young. Not young in the sense of being naïve, hopeful, and innocent, but young in the moments right after that. The youth that Deafheaven capture on their sophomore release seems, in almost every element, to be of that fleeting period when one still feels like wonder and importance saturates every aspect of life but that the onset of adulthood is close enough that he or she can see challenges, frustration, and disillusionment cresting the horizon.
It’s hard not to read one’s biases in art; impossible, probably. Art only really resonates when touchstones exists between the work and the audience. On Sunbather, the touchstone is one final summer in which youthful dreams collide with the impotency of adulthood. Lyrically, the album is grounded temporally in the summer, with the title track referencing a young woman being viewed while sunbathing and the emotions and thoughts the act inspires in the viewer. However, the album also consistently returns the themes of youth, memory, and the dissonance between what one wants and what one receives from life.
Sunbather evokes so many emotions and memories, all of which seem tied to the longing, frustration, and heartsickness inherent in growing up. Even the structure and arrangement of the album’s seven tracks seems to echo an almost youthful mixtape approach to collecting and arranging music. The different, recognizable influences that bleed together throughout Sunbather, each enjoy an individuality while still working together to create something unbelievably cohesive. Distinct, beautiful musical references to bands like The Smiths, Disintegration-era Cure, Explosions in the Sky, and My Bloody Valentine permeate the album. However, while this is unmistakably a black metal release, these references never sound out of place or counterproductive when placed alongside vocalist George Clarke’s tormented shrieks.
In the end, it’s not that Deafheaven are able to draw so many influences into what would seem an impenetrable genre piece that’s impressive, but that such combinations never sound forced or unnatural. Each song on Sunbather is masterfully assembled, moving from torrential, shrieking black metal to melancholic 80s indie and through to widescreen, epic post rock with shocking ease. For something that seems doomed to failure, they really make it sound so easy.
In Sunbather, Deafheaven have created one of this year’s most impressive albums, of any genre. While there will be detractors certain to slap a label like “hipster black metal” on the album, it’s almost unimaginable that Sunbather won’t outlast these criticisms.Sunbather is one of the clearest examples of a modern classic to be produced in recent memory.
© James Grant, Music Vice