Is Deafheaven Bigger Than Yeezus?

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Someone who compiles these things (Metacritic, apparently) averaged all the reviews for all the records released last year, and Deafheaven's Sunbather came in at number one. In fact, the album with the starkly pink cover is the seventh-highest-scoring record in Metacritic's entire database, dating back to 1999. That means it beat Kanye West's Yeezus and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories.

That's a feat in and of itself, given how heavily most albums are marketed compared to this -- what's more weird about a relatively unknown upstart taking such accolades is how the band is labeled post-metal, black metal, and shoegaze all in one.

See also: Destruction Unit on Playing to Spaniards High on Bad Speed

In reality, Sunbather transcends genre in an era when it means less and less to associate yourself with a particular category, anyway. The best descriptor for Deafheaven might be "texture-heavy," as nothing remains static: moments of intense, hand-wringing beauty amid pop and shoegaze influences are accented by engulfing tones of violence, despair, and a "sober restlessness," on songs that routinely last more than 10 minutes.

Many similar lyrical themes weave in and out on the album -- blissful death, striving for perfection, Hell on Earth -- but lead screamer and lyricist George Clarke repeatedly has emphasized that Sunbather is not a concept album. When we called Clarke, he was eating a club sandwich in a hotel lobby in Richmond, Virginia. We first asked him if he was attracted to the idea of a unified story, and if he'd ever consider writing one.

"No, probably not," Clarke says. "I think that every great record can enjoyably be listened from front to back. There's an age where it makes sense and it's cohesive, and I'm sure we'll continue to do that, structurally. But as a far as a full concept, nah. That's way too prog for my taste."

Either way, the ebb and flow of Sunbather will begin to manifest under your skin the more you listen. "Windows," an almost overlooked interlude near the end of the album, is filled with heavy piano bass and distorted tape textures, but the most unsettling thing about this atmosphere is the voices we hear. A street preacher trumpets the Gospel and warns of a place where "the worm dieth not," while guitarist Kerry McCoy, Deafheaven's other half, scores drugs on the street. The juxtaposition of a possible Hell and the torment of addiction is not lost. We asked how the band recorded the drug deal.

"It was a little nerve-racking, but it wasn't that bad," Clarke says. "We just had his phone, and he was just wearing a shirt that had a front pocket, and we just put it in his front pocket." It's not surprising that Clarke's lyrics are heavily inspired by literary sources, which is why on "Please Remember," you can hear French shoegaze band Alcest's Stéphane Paut reading a passage from Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Clarke doesn't sing, saying he's "just your average tone-deaf person." He sees his howling, screeching, and wailing as its own instrument -- deciphering the lyrics isn't really the point. Luckily, if you have trouble making out what's being shrieked, the band has publicly shared their lyrics.

On the titular track, you'll find lines like "Break bones down to yellow and crush gums into blood / The hardest part for the weak was stroking your fingers with rings full of teeth." "Dream House" focuses on alcoholism and envy with strong existential overtones. So does Clarke actually have his own dream house?

"I don't. Not necessarily," he says. "At least I haven't seen it yet. That term is just relating to an ideal. Something you want more than anything."

Deafheaven is scheduled to perform 
Monday, June 30, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

9 Tips for Using A Fake ID To Get Into A Show Here's How Not to Approach a Journalist on Facebook The 10 Coolest, Scariest, Freakiest Songs About Heroin The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time

Like Up on the Sun on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest local music news and conversation.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.