Deerhoof are the Romper Room armageddon, Raggedy Ann poking brush into a wood chipper, Big Bird soaring over the looted ruins of Baghdad. Their chunky-liquid sound is like a radish dipped in honey. The trick seems fairly simple: put some jagged guitars and thundering drums under the chirpy-girly voice of Satomi Matsuzaki, and let the dissonance loose. Yoko Ono used to attempt something similar, and LiLiPUT are also an obvious forebear. But their central influence seems to be the Shaggs, whose unembarrassed make-it-up-as-we-go-along amateurism ended up putting earache primitivism onto the aesthetic map.
Last year’s Reveille was an organic masterpiece, a free-flowing jumble of larynx, tongue, and noise, tweetering daintily between piety and damnation, occasionally crashing to earth, always trying to take flight again. The bluesy no-wave was compelling in itself, but the part you remember best is the voice of Satomi Matsuzaki, a strange, exhilarating evocation of a Siren singing artless melodies to herself as she wanders the cliffs alone. Apple O’ knots up the magic of Reveille and then trails it out into a series of individual songs, all lined up in a row. There’s not as much chaos here, but that’s no surprise (inspired anarchy ain’t easy to reconjure every time out: just ask Sonic Youth). But everything else remains intact: resonant distilled-English lyrics, scratchy-noisy guitars, thundering drums, and Satomi. Rather than try to recreate the messy conceptual flow of Reveille, Deerhoof instead concentrate on making a really great record. So no, it’s not another masterpiece, but it is a stunning and memorable batch of songs. Hell, four of them are new classics by my reckoning.
Track one is “Dummy Discards a Heart”, and there’s the album’s theme for you. Love as primal force, sometimes yucky and barren, but usually about shouting and cartwheels rather than flowers and poems. The twin guitars of Chris Cohen and John Dieterich bounce along with each other in a trebly-buzzy Carrie-Brownstein style as Satomi chirps, “Sing to the East / Sing to the West / Sing to the one you love the best”. A stunning opener, more a pop tune (albeit a noisy, difficult one) than an art experiment. Its followup, “Heart Failure” is even poppier, with bell-like guitars and lines like “Heart is dim now” and “Love drop feeling can stop” generating the theme. This song also demonstrates that Greg Saunier is a magnificent drummer, the Ziggy Modeliste of no-wave. His thundering kit—seemingly random, kinda jazzy—circles around the “beat” rather than hitting it dead-on. He trails slightly behind the song, urging it forward, rather than leading it with the martial tenacity of ordinary drumwork. In almost every Deerhoof tune, you gotta keep your ear on that crazy-spastic Saunier because maybe this shit is the future of pop rhythm.
Some other crazy-love highlights are “Flower” (a childish melody, a dinging bell, Saunier as devil’s hound) and “Panda Panda Panda” (destined to be a live favorite: “I like panda / Bye bye panda / Panda road.”), both of which have half-serious lyrics that are part Gertrude Stein, part infant board-book. “Flower” is especially great, as some sneaky significance pops into the couplet “I come over / I take over”, hardly the innocent babblings of a bell-dinging Bettie-Boop type. The instrumental “My Diamond Star Car” is also stupendous, a lightning-swift axe-battle that makes no-wave sound like a party!
Things do slow down a bit at times. “Apple Bomb”, for example, is a flat-out majestic ballad, kinda pretty and harmless, but not the sort of thing you’d cue up voluntarily when getting your Deerhoof fix. I do like the nice touch of having a singsong chorus go “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb bomb” though, and the guitars do rave up quite beautifully at points. “Adam + Eve Connection”, another ballad, has the interesting feature of beginning with noisy Creation (ungodly noise) and then jerking to a halt in the Garden of Eden, with flamenco guitar and a melodic whisper-melody duet between Satomi and Greg Saunier. Adam and Eve connection, okay I get it. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But unlike on Reveille, it seems that they’re sticking with intentionally bad song titles here. And thus we have “Dinner for Two”, a dreamy interlude which seems useless, though maybe it’s a good transition in their live set, who knows.
Leaving aside “Flower” and “Dummy Discards a Heart”, there are two other songs here that I consider to be new classics. “Sealed With A Kiss”, despite it’s title, is straight urgent politics: “Stop the man at the top / Stop the flag at the top / Stop the drop on the map. / Citizen.” It’s a surprisingly artificial arrangement, with martial rhythms (I don’t think Saunier is playing live on this one) and sampled trombones giving an almost robotic feel to Satomi’s voice, as if she’s Malibu Stacy newly endowed with consciousness. Strange and kinda pretty. Even better is “L’Amour Stories” a shamelessly hooky creation that refers directly to the album’s title (and theme): “What’s that core on the floor. / What the devil was that for.” It begins with a jangly-guitar haunted chanteuse, then erupts every now and then into an optimistic axe-driven chorus (“Try to lift him up for me”) that’s hard to describe but impossible to forget. And the way Satomi bravely tries to hold her notes, pushing them higher and higher like a demented Streisand toward the end: pure bliss. Really noisy and grating bliss, sure, but then this is a Deerhoof album, isn’t it?
Apple O’ is a wonderful album by a band that’s created an entirely unique noise out of old Shaggs LP’s and the San Francisco fog. And the theme of it all is love, so buy it before Spring is over . . .
// Notes from the Road
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