Review Summary: An album blissfully unaware of its own magnificence.
Much has been made about Deerhoof being a "love it or hate it" band, a "difficult" band that you either understand or, well, don't. And I don't get it. Or, more specifically, I don't hear
it. To my ears, with their days of producing screeching and occasionally punishing bouts of noise behind them, Deerhoof are, more than anything, a pop band.
Which isn't to say that their music adheres to pop tradition at all; far from it. Deerhoof are often compared to groups like OOIOO and the Flaming Lips, and for good reason: like those bands, they fuck with pop conventions to their liking and turn ostensibly "experimental" sonic ideas into immediately comprehensible ones. The first song on their tenth studio album, Deerhoof vs. Evil
, "Qui Dorm, Només Somia", calls to mind the first moments of Steve Mackey's Tuck and Roll
for electric guitar and orchestra, but whereas that work aimed to show classical audiences that the six-string wasn't always bombastic and/or barbaric, Deerhoof seem more interested in taking thorny passagework and making it sound uncomplicated and digestible. Listening to this album is a liberating experience for precisely this reason: the band's idiosyncratic tendencies never get in the way of their natural musicality. And so Deerhoof vs. Evil
is an album blissfully unaware of its own magnificence, more concerned with actually sounding good rather than simply being a giddy mindfuck. Yeah, they obscure a lovely bit of carpe diem
sentiment by singing it in Catalan
("la vida dura poc / és veritat / no és veritat"), which does seem like a distancing device on paper, but the chorus is so welcoming that the language it's sung in doesn't matter in the least.
"Qui Dorm, Només Somia" is also really fun
, which is a word that defines pretty much all of Deerhoof vs. Evil
. I mean, that's pretty much what you'd expect from an album with a song entitled "Super Duper Rescue Heads!", right? And "Super Duper Rescue Heads!" sounds exactly the same in practice as it does in theory, which is to say that it's a quintessential Deerhoof song: two-and-a-half minutes of pop hooks, dissonant keyboards, and drumming that is effortlessly light yet still heart-poundingly exciting. Oh, and Satomi Matsuzaki's voice. That high-pitched warble, strangely a sticking point for many listeners, is a silvery thing, girlish but not excessively so, providing a pleasant contrast to the band's sometimes-convulsive arrangements without dissolving into cavity-inducing cuteness. So when Matsuzaki asks, "What is this thing called love?" in the chorus of "Behold a Marvel in the Darkness", she conveys both wide-eyed innocence and grizzled exasperation.
A song like "Behold a Marvel in the Darkness" is complex without feeling off-puttingly esoteric, lyrically cryptic without being inscrutable, and therefore exemplifies exactly why Deerhoof are so wonderful. That every track off of this record works in this vein is not so much surprising as it is simply gratifying. And while Deerhoof vs. Evil
is incredibly consistent, it's also widely varied. There are echoes of Deerhoof's raucous, noisy past ("The Merry Barracks", "Let's Dance the Jet"), elegant and deceptively simple guitar-driven pop songs ("Must Fight Current", "No One Asked to Dance"), and a bunch of off-the-wall stuff in between. "Hey I Can" is yet another excellent display of Deerhoof's abilities to make the best out of nonsense; the song is composed of skittering beats and Matsuzaki creating rhythmic verses like "hey, hey / hey, hey / hey, hey hey, hey" and "I can, I can, I can, I can". It's maddening to analyze, sure, but it's supremely enjoyable to listen to. Really, the only questionable moment on Deerhoof vs. Evil
is the closer, "Almost Everyone, Almost Always". Not that it's a bad song - far from it - but as a conclusion to such a superbly contained album, it seems to lack the finality of, say, "Look Away" off of Friend Opportunity
But maybe that's the point. Maybe Deerhoof want
to leave us hanging, begging for more of the same - which, for these guys, means more unpredictable changes of course and bursts of inspired weirdness. "This is not based on a true story," Matsuzaki sings playfully on "Secret Mobilization". Exactly, which is why Deerhoof are continuously interesting, even ten albums into their remarkable career: they're always finding new places to explore and new tales to tell.