When asked about the lack of musical originality in independent music during an interview a few years ago, Deerhoof’s charmingly awkward Greg Saunier responded, “Music does not need to be saved.” His belief in the art form’s unwavering creativity may be a matter of perspective: being a member of an underrated and consistently unpredictable experimental rock group makes Saunier et al de facto fighters of inferior tunes, trite lyrics, and tired indie pop clichés. In their self-aware superhero manner, Deerhoof released their aptly titled tenth album this past week, Deerhoof vs. Evil.
Many of the band’s trademark sounds remain intact: the blunt, simple, and often comically unique lyrical stylings of Satomi Matsuzaki, the melodic guitar layering, the occasionally chaotic noise sequences, and the band’s penchant for peculiarity. All of which are evident in the album’s opening track, as Matsuzaki launches with a wink into Catalan in ‘Qui Dorm, Només Somia’ (“He who sleeps, only dreams” – am I correct, Barcelonan friends?).
Since the addition of Ed Rodriguez in 2008, Deerhoof’s guitar work has become more complex; the interplay between John Dieterich and Rodriguez allowed for flirtation with different genres and pushed the stringed instrument to be showcased within their songs. Deerhoof vs. Evil is no exception, with their mingled strumming ranging from the Flamenco-esque ‘No One Asked to Dance’, the bluesy progression of ‘Secret Mobilization’ and bouncy-to-crunchy tangential jams accented by Saunier’s epic drumming in ‘Behold a Marvel in the Darkness’.
The quest against dark forces is occasionally present thematically in the album, with troops being summoned in ‘The Merry Barracks’ and Matsuzaki confidently declaring her heroic abilities in ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads!’. But no Deerhoof album would be complete without the impressive non-sequiturs. The clear stand-out is ‘Let’s Dance the Jets’, which sounds like a spy-movie soundtrack, but is actually a cover of the theme to a ’60s British/Greek Tom Courtenay movie, The Day the Fish Came Out. Deliciously obscure.
There are a few small detracting elements to the album. Some head-banging longtime fans might be disappointed at reduced level of energetic rock, and I was admittedly bored during the dreamier, slower tracks (namely ‘Almost Everyone, Almost Always’). Despite this, as a whole the record maintains a dichotomy between experimental rock and accessible pop. And for that, I feel that Matsuzaki is correct in her proclamation: “Deerhoof to the rescue.”
Aside from releasing my newest favourite album of the decade, the crew has been busy with a slew of other projects as well. A video for ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads!’ reminiscent of a more sarcastic, psychedelic Black Swan surfaced in early 2011; a collaborative project is in the works between the band and two groups of “electrified traditional Congolese street musicians” (dubbed the Congotronics series); and several 7” releases will feature guest vocals over instrumental tracks in Deerhoof vs. Evil (such as ‘I Did Crimes for You’ featuring Busdriver, and other unannounced tracks with Xiu Xiu). And it’s not even February yet.