Deerhunter, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? (4AD) ***

BACKWOODS Americana with a wry and beguilingly cynical art-pop twist, gradually secreting themselves further into the public consciousness with each passing album: yes, Atlanta’s Deerhunter are the new The National. That’s how the script is meant to go, anyway.

And in some ways, their eighth album follows that script. It could be the album where they cross the bridge between critical acclaim but limited following to the reasonably big time, in much the same way as their compatriots did with High Violet a decade ago. But Why Hasn’t Everything… can’t simply be regarded as a version of something else. It’s a more complicated piece of work than that.

Sure, there’s switchblade-sharp alt-rock with a desert flavour in evidence here, such as on the clipped opening one-two of Death In Midsummer, with its slow-building zither, and No One’s Sleeping. After this, however, Bradford Cox and his troupe take multiple diversions. Greenpoint Gothic immediately follows, and it’s a chunk of cold electronica that Gary Numan wouldn’t have turned away at the door.

Elements is like a malevolent nursery rhyme, with Cox’s lyrics – sunny on the surface, but voiced with a sinister edge – making you feel ever so slightly uneasy without really knowing why. The St Etienne-esque Futurism is juxtaposed with the spaced-out pillars of noise represented by Detournement and Tarnung. And then they throw in Plains, the best thing here, with funk-tinged verses and a big, airless chorus.

Why Hasn’t Everything… walks the rope that separates idiosyncratic from a lack of identity, and which side you feel it comes down on probably depends on whether Cox’s drawl appeals or not. It’s an album that neither feels settled – surely intentionally as there’s no lack of musical confidence here – and never allows you to settle, often clouding the imagination of its creators behind a hazy sound. If this is Deerhunter’s breakthrough album, it’ll be by accident rather than design, and you somehow doubt they want it to be.

Mark Stead