When the Sun Hits
Deafheaven tend to make their best moves when no one is keeping score. Case in point: 10 Years Gone, a career-spanning retrospective with recontextualized versions of old songs captured live-to-tape with the band’s longtime engineer Jack Shirley. The California quintet quietly released it in December 2020, months after Decibel’s Albums of the Year list was finalized, but 10 Years Gone was unquestionably one of the year’s best-sounding and most unconventional releases. In a year without live music, Deafheaven’s “live” album offered a capable alternative, and one that highlighted the band’s meticulous arrangements and mastery of tension-and-release.
If last year presented an unscripted opportunity to look back and reflect, 2021 is all about blazing new trails. Infinite Granite is the first Deafheaven album that doesn’t feel like a direct reaction to or a repudiation of the album that came before it—there’s tons of space in this material, and you can immediately envision what it might sound like live, especially in a context similar to 10 Years Gone. But looked at as a spiritual successor to 2018’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love? Uh, well, it doubles or triples down on that album’s forays into glossier sounds, this time under the aegis of Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Tegan and Sara, and St. Vincent’s current musical director).
Vocalist George Clarke’s admiration of Slowdive is well-documented at this point, but it’s amazing to hear how much he actually sounds like Slowdive’s Neal Halstead when employing his full range. There are a couple of gnarlier bits on Infinite Granite where Clarke wails like a banshee (particularly the coda of “Villain”), but for most of the album, his dispassionate vocals provide sharp contrast to the bombast of the music—melding into something that is both downbeat and triumphant. The approach is echoed by guitarists Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra, both of whom set the tempo early and capture the narcotic allure of shoegaze with their cascading parts on “In Blur.”
As with all of their past material, Deafheaven present a surfeit of ideas on Infinite Granite, albeit with a stronger organizational sense than OCHL. This is a challenge with a band that seems to be consciously scaling back from writing 10-minute epics. Still, the album’s closer “Mombasa”—which starts with soothing ambient sounds and ends in a jarring fashion—is as beguiling and captivating as any of the band’s most dizzying peaks. There’s also a two-and-half-minute passage at the end of “Mombasa” that is guaranteed to get lots of undies in a twist. It’s basically the only thing on Infinite Granite that even resembles black metal, but synthesized by a band that’s always 10 steps ahead of everyone else in crafting hymns at heaven’s gate.
Review taken from the September 2021 issue of Decibel, which is available here.