Review Summary: The realest album since Silver Apples
It is time for us all to take a deep breath and admit something that the gatekeepers of so-called indie jankhouses have been reticent to fess up to: noise-pop as an institution is a defunct joke and has been for quite some time now. The genre (or - dare we say - paragenre?), again - the genre’s radical intentions and transformative sound were reduced to arthouse collage in the early ‘90s by the dinky pastiche of Stereolab’s TVU/kraut-worship and the innocuousness of My Bloody Valentine’s bedroom insularity, and it is still struggling to recover. We can, I daresay, forgive My Bloody Valentine; their stubborn refusal to engage in anything approaching a wider dialogue with other muso-political forces has at least splintered and grown into its own autonomous scene; shoegaze has, if you will, been amputated by history from the noise-pop hybrid. Stereolab do not get off quite so easily. Their oh-so-cosy self-aware homage to obsolescent Greats, blueprinted on Peng!
, broadcast on Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements
and bankrupted on Mars Audiac Quintet
, was little more than an artistic patchwork destined for the laziest of critical acclaim, inevitably influential without really advancing anything, and packaged in a brand of Marxism recognisable enough to be trendy but dated to the point of harmlessness.
Stereolab are by no means the root of all evil in this equation, but they represent a convenient tipping point between the forces of noise pop and art-punk that peaked early on with the likes of The Shaggs, Art Bears, The Fall and Half Japanese and was later sublimed into nothingness by such bands as The Flaming Lips, Swirlies, Boredoms, Mercury Rev, and even Pavement (although Pavement, at least, were shrewd profiteers). Any weight the ‘noise’ in the field associated with the label of ‘noise pop’ once packed has been undermined by a twisted conspiracy twixt the forces of listener comfort, acid, and self-indulgent retroactive genre compilation. Pop is dead. Long live pop.
In the wake of all this, Deerhoof is a rare exception, a voice inviting of both pop immediacy and critical acclaim yet steeped in the radical vocabulary of the avant-garde. It is real and alert and unsettling in ways that only authentic music can be. In fact, I would go so far as to call it the realest album since Silver Apples
. Deerhoof would spend much of their career transforming and choking fallen ideals of pop into revitalised modes, but their debut is a highly necessary source text for all such future efforts: it stands as a revolutionary unpicking of all the post-Stereolab post-Sonic Youth cluttered bull*** that littered the ‘90s like the bastard children of the true rockstars the world no longer knew how to recognise. Whatever preconceptions you had of noisy pop or rock music in the ‘90s or - perhaps - ever, this album is antithetical to them.
To exemplify one song, “Mathematics” is a magnificent pop song, scrubbing out the need for a discernible rhythm in a sea of churning un-starting moltenness while vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki sings some words into a microphone and a soothing keyboard tone, afforded pride of place in the mix, teases the possibility of that pop cornerstone, the Resolution, without ever delivering as such. To exemplify the entire album, the other tracks are an amorphous tangle of ideas that never coalesce into bourgeoise structures and melodies that refuse to present themselves. The crackling tape and frequent clipping, courtesy of the appropriately atrocious recording quality, continually foreground the indexical nature of the band’s performance; these ‘songs’ and ideas are not the tiresome reiterations of long-established stylistic iconography as per Stereolab and Boredoms, or the recycled songforms of Pavement et al., but the literal, physical traces of lost moments. Such realism is disarming, especially now in the digital age - and it should be! As stated, this album is a much needed statement of antithesis, a chaotic and furious restarting of a dialectic that had long been dominated by a self-serving sonic thesis no-one cared to contest. Deerhoof reactived the paradigm of opposition and progress, later fleshing out their own synthesis in albums that are good but not as important as this one. Dirt Pirate Creed
is quite good.