When San Francisco-DIY stalwarts Deerhoof decided to record an album in a studio for the first time in their 28-year career, it wasn’t the only radical decision they were making with their music. Having released 18 albums of English-language noise pop, the prolific group have switched to Japanese for Miracle-Level, which extols the virtues of escapism through experimental rock songs that don’t ignore the nightmarish severity of the obverse of dreaming.
Deerhoof have experimented with different styles throughout their career, and drawing inspiration from Japanese culture is nothing new for them. For example, 2005’s Green Cosmos EP was partly sung in Japanese, and their sixth album, Milk Man, was based on a cartoon by Japanese artist Ken Kagami. However, Miracle-Level is sung entirely in front person Satomi Matsuzaki’s native tongue. This could feel like the group are challenging the fans they’ve accrued through their English language back catalogue. However, “challenging” is not a word that belongs in a review of Miracle-Level, thanks to uncluttered production, thoughtful songwriting, and compositional immediacy that flit between poppy adult contemporary played with lounge-band indifference and full-throttle math rock.
While Miracle-Level‘s message of universal love is directly conveyed in the lyrics, it’s the music that has the strongest propensity for veering towards sweetness in times of turmoil; dark musical phrases are placed around easy-going pop that injects a sense of joy into the otherwise stern songs. While not overtly political, this dynamic could be interpreted as an antidote to hopelessness, identifying the possible alternatives which arise from substandard social conditions. For example, laid-back tracks, such as the aptly-titled “The Poignant Melody”, are velvety on the ear, while “Jet-Back Double-Shield” is full of the pressure-cooker intensity that Deerhoof are best known for.
With increasing regularity, Deerhoof have been using Twitter to voice their political stance on everything from premature unmasking to military spending. While the four-piece are no strangers to politicizing, their account recently tweeted this explanation: “I think I tweet about politics more than music because my political musings are simpleminded and Tweet length and my music thoughts are tortured and take too many words to explain.”
Indeed, explaining Deerhoof is incompatible with brevity; even if their songs are succinct, their moods are like mille-feuille, meaning you never get an easily-described flavor. While all tracks are consistently sound and individually appreciable, none quite match the high-flammability of “My Lovely Cat!”, which is worthy of being declared a work of genius, with just the right amounts of sneering indie-jockdom and friendly alternative nerding. Instead, the other stand-out tracks ignite more like the transient delicacy of pyrotechnics; the call-to-arms “Phase-out All Remaining Non Miracles By 2028”, the lyrics of which act as audacious exposition, “And the Moon Laughs”, which contrasts a scuzzy riff with enamoring adult contemporary vocal melodies, and the complicated aggression of “Momentary Art of Soul!” which drills into the album’s darker corners.
Miracle-Level by Deerhoof is as vitalizing as it is soft-hearted. The studio sound has fully revealed accomplished players interested in exploring the humanitarian capabilities of music, expressing, however vaguely or explicitly, a longing for the miraculous and a rejection of the mundane.