I’ve been kicking around the idea of making this list since the release of Deerhunter’s last album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared. After being whelmed by their 2015 record Fading Frontier, Disappeared really got me back into the band in a big way. I saw them technically twice on that tour and had a huge resurgence back into my listening repertoire while crafting my Best of the Decade list (mostly Halcyon Digest, but that had a lot of carry-over into their other records). According to my last.fm account I’ve accumulated near 1,500 plays for the group since 2013, with every almost year since then tallying at least 100 plays. I love this dang band! So I thought I’d organize my favorite songs and potentially score them either some new fans who hadn’t dug into their discography yet, or some new streams from fellow fans. Win-Win! Except if people start to attack me over my stupid opinions. Then it’s a bad time. But I want it to be a good time.
1. “Helicopter” [Halcyon Digest, 2010]
I had been a fan of Deerhunter with Microcastle, but when “Helicopter” came out, I was listening to it maybe 10+ times a day. This is no exaggeration. I had never heard anything like it at the time. It’s gorgeous, touching, and has a great beat. I can’t NOT put this at the top of the list, I’ve listened to this song three times more than any other Deerhunter song. It’s likely their most popular, but like, it’s that way for a reason.
2. “He Would Have Laughed” [Halcyon Digest, 2010]
Just BARELY in second place (nearly tied for first) is the closer on Halcyon Digest, Bradford Cox’s tribute to the late Jay Reatard “He Would Have Laughed”. The two were clearly friends in real life aside from collaborating on a split EP. Somehow this track has also become the most popular on the band’s streaming platforms, despite its length and meandering nature. It’s that dang good of a song, with shimmering guitar and synth and a totally crushing final mantra, “where did my friends go?”. I did always think my digital copy was corrupted because it just abruptly ends, but that’s just it – life just stops existing in a particularly beautiful passage.
3. “Vox Celeste” [Weird Era Cont., 2008]
Why don’t more people talk about “Vox Celeste”? In 2013 I went through a massive Deerhunter phase (a little after the release of Monomania) and was obsessively listening through the whole catalog. Up until that point, Weird Era Cont. had been a bit of an outlier for me, being a little too abstract for my liking. On my first re-listen through it though, “Vox Celeste” immediately impacted me – especially the hard bass line. You’ll find that this omnipresent bass line will be a running theme in the rest of my song picks. That’s the real hero here, although the flying walls of guitar are great too. However, I do want to take the time to give a massive spotlight to the late Josh Fauver, the bassist for the band from 2004 to 2010, the architect of so many favorite moments of mine on this list. 00s Deerhunter seemed so rooted around the solid bass line and collecting all the examples here really makes my chest tight at the thought of his passing. For me, it’s one of those things when you hear a bass of that timbre and presence in a song, it brings me to a Deerhunter comparison. It’s that linked. If you’ve spent most of your time with the heavily-acclaimed DH records, I highly support you going back to Weird Era Cont. if you haven’t in a while.
4. “Twilight at Carbon Lake” [Microcastle, 2008]
I always appreciated “Twilight at Carbon Lake” as a great album closer, but it wasn’t until I saw the band live and they played this as the first song in the encore. At this point in my life I had been listening to more Yo La Tengo and had become obsessed with their long-form Ira guitar freakout tracks, so seeing this live conjuring many similar feelings. They really took advantage of the shift in dynamics in the live setting, being very gentle with the song’s opening (it was the birthday of a friend of Bradford’s in the front row, so he was singing to them… unrelated but it was also my birthday and I was in the front row as well. I should have said something, but Bradford had been in a bad mood that night, ha). When the band finally let loose into the chaotic closing section, the whole crowd went bananas, in tandem with the band. Just pure guitar feedback and crushing distortion. Gotta love a closer like that.
5. “Nothing Ever Happened” [Microcastle, 2008]
This was the first Deerhunter song I ever heard! I think it was one of those things where I was trawling the iTunes store for similar things to Animal Collective or Phoenix or something and Microcastle was infinitely recommended. I bought the most popular song and there we went. I thought it was a fine enough song, but you gotta appreciate approximately half is just one long jam on a bass line. I still have not seen this song live (HOW) but I imagine it just kicks ass. In the same vein as the Yo La Tengo moment, I love an extended guitar solo across the same riff. It just kicks so much ass.
6. “Cryptograms” [Cryptograms, 2007]
Again, the bass line. Thank you Josh. This is a great song on its own, but isolate that bass line and hoo boy, you’ve got a ripper. It basically starts the song off, and when the chorus hits the bass becomes the flexing backbones as the rest of the instrumentation starts to bend and warp around heavy waves of digital distortion. The song continues to build after the first chorus, culminating in a glorious release after rippling waves of sound and noise batter the listener.
7. “Sleepwalking” [Monomania, 2013]
Where the other songs on this list are favorites because of riffs, bass lines, or just pure feel, this song really hooked me in with its melodies and harmonies. It’s an incredibly satisfying arrangement, with an engaging verse melody, a killer chorus and breezy yet underhandedly tough instrumentation. And again, Deerhunter loves a good build, and the end of the song features Bradford’s voice become slowly swallowed up by the impending deluge of guitars and drums. For me it’s the highlight on the highly underrated Monomania.
8. “Disappearing Ink” [Rainwater Cassette Exchange, 2009]
A live highlight for sure, “Disappearing Ink” features, guess what, another fat, large and in charge bass line. The guitars delicately rattle around the chugging bass tones and Cox careens his vocal melody around it. It’s another example of how Deerhunter have crafted a signature sound and have really perfected it at an early mark in their discography. This is also a reminder to revisit their 00s EPs. Although “Fluorescent Grey” just missed the list, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen.
9. “Hazel St” [Cryptograms, 2007]
Oops is this another song that sounds like a lot of the others on this list? Ever-present bass line? Jangling guitars? Bradford Cox acting more like the high register in the mix rather than a singer? It sounding a lot like “Vox Celeste”? Yup, it’s all there. Oh what’s that? It even gets louder at the end? Yes it’s true. The back half of Cryptograms is absolutely monstrous, with this song being the end of the watertight trio of “Spring Hall Convert” and “Strange Lights”. Just go listen to Cryptograms too. Just do us all a favor, ok?
10. “What Happens To People?” [Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, 2019]
By and far my favorite song on Deerhunter’s most recent record, I love the agile piano and lightweight nature of the song. That’s one thing that’s really not present on any other song on this list (apart from “He Would Have Laughed”) – most of these songs are DENSE. They are THICK. This one blows through like a pleasant breeze, bringing in some of the wistful guitar and synth heard in “Helicopter”. It also features some signature Cate Le Bon mallet percussion, giving the song two different sets of scope. The plinking marimba and vibraphone give it a miniature feel, and the massive legato sweeps of synth zoom the track way out into space. It’s a lovely tune that separates itself from the rest of the band’s discography and stays engaging without being so HARD.
MORE ESSENTIAL DEERHUNTER TRACKS:
Listen to all of the tracks listed here on my Spotify Playlist!
- “Agoraphobia” [Microcastle]
- “Basement Scene” [Halcyon Digest]
- “Coronado” [Halcyon Digest]
- “Desire Lines” [Halcyon Digest]
- “Dream Captain” [Monomania]
- “Fluorescent Grey” [Fluorescent Grey EP]
- “Focus Group” [Weird Era Cont.]
- “Fountain Stairs” [Halcyon Digest]
- “Futurism” [Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?]
- “Living My Life” [Fading Frontier]
- “Monomania” [Monomania]
- “Never Stops” [Microcastle]
- “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” [Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP]
- “Revival” [Halcyon Digest]
- “Snakeskin” [Fading Frontier]
- “Spring Hall Convert” [Cryptograms]
- “Strange Lights” [Cryptograms]