Review Summary: Deerhoof does Deerhoof better than anyone
Deerhoof is a band I’ve always admired for their dedication. After all, consistently churning out some of the best experimental pop/indie rock of the past 20 years can be a difficult undertaking. But as of late, Deerhoof and I have been in a bit of a rough patch. Their last few efforts (especially Deerhoof vs. Evil), while not terrible, were awfully forgettable, and I was getting worried that their trend towards a more accessible sound would lead to their downfall. Luckily, this was not the case, as The Magic is another great outing by one of music’s most steadfast, yet unpredictable groups.
What clearly differentiates this album from the ones previous is its more rock-centric style. The Magic is easily one of Deerhoof’s most straightforward rock albums, containing components of (as their site puts it) “punk, pop, glam, hair metal, doo-wop, hip hop, R&B, late-night car rides, long days, attitude, and spandex.” Sure, tracks like “Patrasche Come Back” and “I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire” show the band hasn’t fully forgotten their experimental side, but I can’t help but feel this heavier sound conflicts with the more laidback cuts off this album. “Learning to Apologize Effectively,” for one, has this really good hook to it, but it just can’t breathe under all of the synths and drums and whatever else layered on top of it. But other times, this denser sound works to the album’s advantage. “The Devil and his Anarchic Surrealist Retinue” and “Plastic Thrills” both work amazingly well with this newly-crafted sound, creating some fantastic garage rock tunes.
Even though Deerhoof have been trying to become more accessible, they can still be a hard listen. Especially when Satomi Matsuzaki has the mic. The one thing that has remained constant throughout Deerhoof’s ever-changing discography is Matsuzaki’s unique vocals. These songs wouldn’t work nearly half as well were it not for her strange delivery and airy squeaking. And when paired with Greg Saunier’s shaky crooning, they make for a fantastic match on tracks like the funky “Life is Suffering”. Early on in the album, however, there are tracks where other members of the band get a chance to sing, and it’s kind of a misstep. "That Ain't No Life To Me" and "Dispossessor" (sung by Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich respectively) do a serviceable enough job, but they’re never distinct enough to where you’d instantly know you were listening to a Deerhoof song. But I guess when your band makes its pay by refusing to stay stationary, switching up vocal duties now and again is a must. I just don’t think it was the right choice for the band.
Deerhoof fans should know by now, but you shouldn’t go into this album expecting what you got on the last. And The Magic continues Deerhoof’s quest to never stay sedentary, providing another example of why no one can Deerhoof better than Deerhoof, even after 20+ years.