[24 January 2011]
PopMatters PopLocal Features Editor
Deerhoof are at the point in a band’s career when critics can’t help but review the band itself just as much as any particular release. The group has been producing albums steadily since 1997. Multiple members have come and gone, including co-founder Rob Fisk. Most importantly, Deerhoof have gradually consolidated their chaotic, confrontational sound into something more recognizable—if only because that something is, by now, so obviously and familiarly Deerhoof.
Deerhoof Vs. Evil is the group’s 10th studio album. Like 2008’s Offend Maggie and 2007’s Friend Opportunity, it finds the band more at home with their established sound than the release before. That’s not to say that they’ve stagnated. As Henry Rollins said of the band in a 2008 interview with Paste Magazine, Deerhoof are so impressive precisely because “[t]hey do a thing and they keep reinventing the thing”.
So what is that ‘thing’? Deerhoof excel at a kind of off-kilter, experimental kitsch. Their songs frequently confound expectations or invert the conventions of form and affectation. You might even recognize a riff or a phrase from some wholly unrelated and, in fact, incongruous area of life or music. In other words, the typical Deerhoof album is unpredictable. In that sense, Deerhoof Vs. Evil is about what you would expect.
There’s the ceaseless shifting of one configuration to another, as when the unassuming plunking of the introduction gives way to a cacophony of ascending guitars and percussion, only to slide into a solemn, plodding vocal melody on “Qui Dorm, Només Somia”. There’s the overblown ecstacy of the band’s not-infrequent, riff-driven catharses, as when distorted guitar drowns the helicopter synths and curiously ass-shaking bass with righteous, monolithic fury on “Super Duper Rescue Heads!”. And there’s the group’s ever-strange lyrics, delivered with unflinching earnesty by Satomi Matsuzaki in a surreal soprano. She sings on “I Did Crimes for You”, “This is a stickup / Smash the windows / The people are wrong / The leader is strong.”
This mixture of the serious and the facetious makes for a music that peaks and plummets at will. Deerhoof love to play with their audience. Perhaps that’s part of the reason they’ve been so creative with their promotions for the last couple releases, offering sheet music for the single “Fresh Born” from Offend Maggie for fan interpretations before the album’s release and streaming Deerhoof Vs. Evil one track at a time in a “Global Album Leak” at different music sites around the world.
When the band falters, it’s because their rapport with the listener has been broken. You might have missed the wink before the jab in the ribs, or be too jacked up from the last rally cry to comply in some absent-minded tinkering. Always, though, you’re lured back in by the typically unexpected beauty of a vocal line or the disarming simplicity of a guitar riff. Sometimes it’s even the misplaced déjà vu of a lyric, as when Matsuzaki breaks into the refrain on “Behold a Marvel in the Darkness”: “What is this thing called love?” she sings, and the guitars stage a blaring, joyous counterpoint in response.
The chief shift to be marked on Deerhoof Vs. Evil from the rest of the band’s discography is the sonic palette, which is darker—more digital than Friend Opportunity and less spare than Offend Maggie—and perhaps more picturesque than what they’ve done before. It’s a move still further in the more orchestral direction they’ve gone since 2005’s The Runners Four. The picked guitars, synthesizers, and organs that weave in and out of Deerhoof Vs. Evil could all be marshaled to attest. Basically, though, this is the Deerhoof album we’ve all come to expect: provocative, infectious and characteristically unpredictable.