Since forming in San Francisco more than 20 years ago, Deerhoof has managed to straddle a variety of lines between guitar-heavy punk, arty dream pop, fractured psychedelia and noisy earworms, keeping their commitment to artistic integrity intact while continuing to win over new fans with each new album and tour. Mountain Moves, their 14th studio album, continues along the same path they’ve always traveled, but with a few new twists.
First of all, the album is decidedly heavy on outside collaborators — Awkwafina, Xenia Rubinos, Juana Molina and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner are just a few of the special guests stopping by — and it’s also getting something of a deservedly high-profile release date bump. While the drop date for Mountain Moves is still technically 8 September, the album has been available to download in its entirety on Bandcamp in a “pay what you want” style since Monday. To make a great situation even better, Deerhoof is donating 100 percent of the download profits to the Emergent Fund, a grassroots nonprofit launched in the wake of last year’s U.S. presidential election that provides resources to communities facing discrimination by the Trump administration.
That is a generous move on the part of Deerhoof, but not necessarily a surprising one; the band has always embraced liberal causes, and this stance even carried over into the initial June announcement of Mountain Moves’ release — a statement made on the Democracy Now website. “In this world of tyrants and CEOs seemingly hell bent on achieving the termination of our species, perhaps the most rebellious thing we could do is not die,” part of the statement read. In conjunction with the announcement, the band shared the track “I Will Spite Survive” (featuring Wasner), which urges vigilance in a turbulent socio-political landscape.
Musically, you could view Deerhoof as a sort of sonic version of a lenticular image: the style of the music depends on how you approach it. The sudden shifts in time signatures and occasionally wanky lead guitars can be seen as nods to progressive rock (albeit the kind of art-punk prog that Robert Fripp indulges in when he wants to distance himself from wizards and glittery capes). But the distortion-heavy sloppiness is punk in full bloom. Furthermore, it’s hard not to give Deerhoof credit for their pop hooks as tracks like “Con Sordino” and “Ay That’s Me” are chock full of infectious melodies you’ll likely be humming long after the album is over.
The collaborations as mentioned above on Mountain Moves are well-chosen and thankfully work nicely with the talents of Deerhoof’s four current members (John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez on guitars, Satomi Matsuzaki on vocals and bass, Greg Saunier on drums). Rapper Awkwafina brings a raw urgency to “Your Dystopian Creation Doesn’t Fear You” and provides a welcome contrast to Matsuzaki’s vocals. Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier contributes to “Come Down Here and Say That”, and her contributions blend in without sticking out. Argentine singer Juana Molina adds an exotic dimension to the album’s opening track, “Slow Motion Detonation”.
There are also an abundance of oddly chosen covers all over Mountain Moves. Violeta Parra’s classic “Gracias a La Vida” has been covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Michael Buble, and Deerhoof (thankfully) crank up the creepy factor on their version. Clocking in at one minute, the track features Matsuzaki’s tender vocals alongside layered orchestrations and a distorted, disembodied male operatic sample. The foot-stomping gospel of the Staple Singers’ “Freedom Highway” is given a bit more of a raw, rockabilly flavor, sounding like Cibo Matto fronting the Cramps. Guest vocalist Xenia Rubinos lends her dreamy, elastic pipes to a version of Paul McCartney’s “Singalong Junk” that bears little to no resemblance to the original, yet still sounds memorable and worthwhile.
Elsewhere, Mountain Moves veers around stylistically from the muscular funk riffs of “Begin Countdown” to the dreamy, dramatic film score feel of “Palace of the Governors” (sounding like a rough indie demo of a James Bond theme). This type of eclecticism serves Deerhoof well and invites comparisons to everything from the Flaming Lips to the White Stripes to Captain Beefheart circa Doc at the Radar Station.
Mountain Moves closes with yet another cover, and it stands out from the rest of the album in that it lacks a lot of the “more is more” approach the band tends to take. Their interpretation of Bob Marley’s “Small Axe” is a minor miracle — it reins in the band with a simple piano/vocal arrangement (sounding uncannily like a home demo recording) yet speaks louder than most of the rest of this wonderful mess of an album. “If you are a big tree / We are a small axe / Ready to cut you down.” This David-versus-Goliath lyric was relevant in Marley’s day, and it’s more significant than ever in 2017.