Deerhoof: confounding & clever

by 5:4

i detest the obsession to subdivide music into genres, and what excites me so much about Deerhoof’s music is that it’s absolutely impossible to pigeon-hole. i’ve seen them called “indie rock”, “post rock”, “avant rock” and “math rock”; but i don’t worry about such things, and choose rather to revel in some of the most confoundingly brilliant, unashamedly artistic and downright clever music i’ve heard in my life. There’s an omnipresent sense of anarchy lurking in their songs, the band often sounding as though they’re barely held in check by Satomi Matsuzaki’s simplistic vocals.

Their most recent album, Friend Opportunity, starts with “The Perfect Me”, the perfect album opener: fast, irregular, harmonically ambiguous, percussion everywhere; it’s also a perfect demonstration of Deerhoof’s approach to structure, veering between utterly different episodes with absolutely no attempt at smoothing over the joins. Play it loud, very loud! “+81″‘s opening trumpet fanfare shows a willingness to bring in unexpected instruments, which sound entirely at home; the middle portion of the song is them at their most obtuse harmonically, perhaps the most peculiar series of chords i’ve ever heard away from classical art music. Though i hate the term, Deerhoof exhibit a palpable ‘retro’ quality at times, and the opening of “Believe E.S.P.” is, dare i say it, the kind of thing one might expect to hear in a ’70s porn movie. But there’s nothing remotely embarrassing about it; it’s made to fit perfectly, melding among the laid-back percussion and dark guitar/electronic stings. There’s a hypnotic, slightly stomach-turning sensation in the layers found in “Choco Fight”, as though the different rhythmic pulses didn’t quite marry up properly; it’s another episodic song, fluctuating between this and an odd, sickly-sweet quasi-chorus; the tension i mentioned before between vocalist and band is quite strong here. A very different quality is heard in “Whither The Invisible Birds?”, a plaintive melody wafting over a texture orchestral in scope. The rest of the album is equally impressive, and the last track perhaps hints at a new breadth of vision; at over 10 minutes, it’s their longest song to date.

A couple of years older is the Green Cosmos EP, opening with the wonderfully quixotic miniature “Come See The Duck”. The title track is one of their finest creations, filled with diverse episodes; at one moment it’s familiar chord progressions and tribal percussion, next its more relaxed with music box bells, then synth power chords – a fabulous concoction conflated into just under 3½ minutes. The strings and trumpets are back in strident form in the largely instrumental “Spiral Golden Town”, catchy and surprisingly danceable. Again, the remainder (seven tracks in total) is sheer brilliance; “Byun” brings it to an exhilarating close, blending stylistic fragments from j-pop and 80s pop with surreal guitar passages and an incongruous xylophone. Music is rarely as brilliant, as exciting and as irresistible as Deerhoof!

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