Try to explain Deerhoof to your non-initiated friends, and you'll find yourself at a loss for words: "It's this kickass rock band, see, and the lead singer is this Japanese woman, and she sort of chirps rather than sings, and it's not clear how well she really understands English, and their songs are about, uh, pandas. And flowers. But they rock, I swear it!" My friends thought that my inarticulate description was a joke -- and I must admit that I've never been quite sure myself whether or not Deerhoof were for real. I've always had a latent notion that the members of Deerhoof were enjoying a huge, Andy Kaufmanesque joke at my expense. After seeing their recent show at Ithaca, New York's Robert Purcell Center, I'm still not sure. But I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter. Musical pranksters and masters of the incongruous they might be, but their frenzied, hour-long set made it abundantly clear that, when it comes to beautiful, heart-stopping rock, Deerhoof is no joke. Although it was a nice night in Ithaca, only about 25 people were there to hear local openers Idols of Perversity and Josh Malamy. As Deerhoof took the stage around ten o'clock, the number had grown to around 60 people -- pretty much every indie kid in Ithaca, filled with the visible ennui that comes from living in a place where life revolves around umbrellas, double coupons, and patchouli. Still, Deerhoof played like they were headlining at a packed club instead of a sparsely-filled student union multipurpose room. Their short set drew on songs from their entire catalogue. They opened with an inspired version of Apple O's "Panda Panda Panda", which rocked harder than any song whose lyrics consist of the words "panda panda panda" has a right to. The rest of the show continued in a similar vein as Deerhoof explored the boundaries of their singularly original fusion of inspired noise and Hello-Kitty-chic. Guitarists Chris Cohen and John Dietrich tore through Reveille's "This Magnificent Bird Will Rise" with punk-rock gusto as Satomi Matsuzaki's sweetly disarming vocals chimed in counterpoint. Cohen and Dietrich's strings kept on breaking throughout the set, but this didn't slow them down at all -- the string was hanging off of Dietrich's guitar during "Dummy Discards A Heart" for what seemed like hours, yet he still coaxed enough rock out of the remaining strings to more than make up for the loss of the other one. The show featured some calmer moments, too -- during "Exploding Candlelight", drummer Greg Saunier and Matsuzaki traded places, and it made for a sweetly strange contrast as Saunier mimicked Matsuzaki's guileless chirp while she gently tapped the drums. Deerhoof's slightly surreal stage presence seems to be an extension of their musical absurdism. Flanking Saunier and Matsuzaki, guitarists Cohen and Dietrich looked like sleepwalking rock-and-roll-bots as they stoically tore through their parts. Behind the kit, Saunier rivals John Vanderslice sideman Christopher McGuire as the wildest drummer in indie rock. Sitting on a milk crate with a minimal snare-bass-ride setup, with a tambourine strapped to the bass drum doubling as a hi-hat, Saunier thrashed spastically throughout the night, beating the shit out of the drums while sporadically using his head as a third stick. A study in explosive contrast, Saunier often seemed to fall asleep for a second, immediately afterwards jerking back up with a grin, all the while pounding away. Satomi Matsuzaki, in comparison, was an oasis of calm. Her bass playing was mindlessly hypnotic as she plucked out one note over and over again, and her singing was agreeably chipper. The combination of the four musicians sounds strange -- and it is, undeniably -- but it works. Watching Matsuzaki drop her bass and hopscotch around the stage, singing "Come See The Duck" as the rest of the band rocks out behind her is weird, yet it's immensely entertaining and musically gratifying. Their instrumental closer was a fitting summation of the evening. Lined up across the stage, the band played a song that sounded like a cross between an Ennio Morricone theme and a car wreck, gradually building in intensity until Matsuzaki stepped up to the microphone and, in denouement, sang "Penny penny penny penny penny." As the song ended, she spoke her first words of the evening: "We have CDs." It might be a joke, but who cares. Like the best jokes, Deerhoof make you smile, and make you feel good inside.
In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.
If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.
From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.
60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)
White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans
This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.
Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.
Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.
France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.