Much like the imprinting demise of Bambi’s mother in Disney’s adaptation of Felix Salten’s novel, some things can feel so misplaced and startling that they resonate all the stronger for their unconventional placement. This is an idea that San Franciscan indie tricksters Deerhoof have been comfortably milking in the course of their career, and just like the doe-eyed fawn audiences have often been left feeling confused and isolated by Deerhoof’s antics. Splicing sharp pop hooks into the most dissonant of noise pieces, the band have rarely conceded to musical norms. As an ensemble, it shouldn’t work: charismatic frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki joined with no musical experience; the line-up has seen numerous additions and losses; and the band enjoy swapping instruments on stage regardless of their ability or familiarity. But work it does, and this year Deerhoof celebrate their tenth studio album in the form of Deerhoof Vs Evil, a chaotic treat that should delight long-term fans with more of the tightly-wound insanity they’re used to.
Speaking of Matsuzaki, it is her nuanced, knowingly cute vocals upon which Deerhoof hang the majority of their songs, and she makes a perfect compliment for John Dieterich’s broad canvas of guitar styles. Second track ‘Behold A Marvel In The Darkness’ is the first to really take hold with this excitable interplay; “What is this thing called love?” coos Matsuzaki in intermittent sections, punctuated by riotous electric guitars, as the piece twists dizzyingly from cheerful looped guitars and marching drums into a pastiche of ’60s pop stuffed with sugary harmonies and airy keyboard tones. Come the end it’s somehow hugely anthemic, closing on a darker, angrier bent; expansive and playful – a description befitting of most of the album – it’s everything that’s great about Deerhoof distilled into a nugget.
The ridiculously titled ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads !’ is even more exciting, and Deerhoof Vs Evil‘s best track. Kickstarted by Greg Saunier’s masterfully tight drumming, it carries a hook so sharp that when the entire ensemble pulls back to make way for Matsuzaki to modestly croon “Me to the rescue / hello, hello, you lucky so-and-so,” it’ll already have burrowed deep inside that mysterious, smile-fixating part of the brain. From there the song pitches headfirst into a starfield of dissonant sounds and hefty bass, and does not outstay the welcome. The rest of the album features such fancies as a strangely simplistic Spanish lullaby (‘No One Asked To Dance’) and the short, frenzied smack about the ears that is ‘Let’s Dance The Jet’, which plunges from the relative peace of ‘No One Asked To Dance’ into Sonic Youth-style antics with wailing keyboard tones that threaten and tease like the most intense of boss battles in an 8-bit era videogame.
From the tribal electronic bleeping and bursting indie guitars of opening number ‘Qui Dorm, Només Somia’ right through to the Grandaddy-alike ‘Almost Everyone, Almost Always’, with its soft male vocals and dreamily distorted fuzzing, Deerhoof Vs Evil is uncompromising, surprising and joyous. It isn’t without the odd bland moment, and as sharp – and surprisingly focused – as most of the songs are, the band’s unrelenting quest for subversion may leave uninitiated ears tired and bewildered. That said, fans have got a great deal to be happy with here. It’s Deerhoof’s most cohesive and enjoyable album in a long while, and a great start to 2011.
[ATP/Polyvinyl; January 24, 2011]