Review: Deerhoof – Breakup Song
Published on September 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Deerhoof remain the band that refuses to ‘mature’, as it were, and for that we should all be grateful. All that jagged experimentalism is still shot through with enough of a sunny pop sensibility to keep the rowdy, jittery robot jazz alluring – not to mention a prudently splattered array of colours to keep things exotic and fresh – and while the overall result is less immediate than last year’s sublime Deerhoof vs. Evil LP it’s a darn sight less troubled-sounding than its title would imply.
In fact Breakup Song messes with us straight from the off by not only taking the singular for its title but also by getting underway with the pseudo-title-track “Breakup Songs”, which as you can see takes the plural for whatever reason. It also gets a lot of Deerhoof trademarks in early: those brattily cartoonish fuzzy blasts of guitar, Satomi Matsuzaki’s distinctive vocals yelping (thematically) “when you say it’s all over”, Greg Saunier’s clattering, complex drum rhythms, and the occasional flourish of ingenious melody emerging from this strange blend as if trying to flee it. Fortunately, the escape route leads right into our ears. (Yes, we can’t believe we just wrote that either.)
Also, is Matsuzaki repeatedly singing “Neil Young” at various points? She probably isn’t but it sure sounds like it.
Splendid title aside, “There’s That Grin” turns up to the party with an even splendider syncopated brass bit, a fuzz-bass riff so familiar yet so alien – then so groovy when it later shifts up in key with an extra added harmony – and a jazzy electric piano breakdown presumably of Saunier’s doing. How do you seal a deal like this in Deerhoof style? Call and response bursts of guitar from either side of the mix, that’s how you bloody well do it.
The quick-shuffling drums of “Bad Kids to the Front” play straight whenever sinister synth arpeggios turn around to see them approaching, stopping and whistling with their hands in their pockets like some almost-rumbled cartoon character, and the sections of berserk cacophony make for sheer Deerhoof mayhem the likes of which there will always be a place for. “Now I am going dancing / If you would care to join me” propositions Matsuzaki in “Zero Seconds Pause”, which leads its ravey, felty synth and grumbling bass into quite the assured strut, while “Mothball the Fleet” may be the calmest track thus far but still has much to pick out, such as the minor-key feel conjured by that slightly discordant finger-piano-or-whatever-it-is, and Saunier(?)’s lead vocal at the end.
“Flower” – not the first Deerhoof song to go by that name, in case you didn’t know – continues in a similar vein, Matsuzaki imploring “Let it go, leave it all behind” on what couldn’t be described as a sombre breakup song, yet in a purely Deerhoof context kind of is: there are elements of the introspection that crept into the band’s 2008 album Offend Maggie, but it couldn’t be accused of wallowing in self-pity or not presenting a relatively challenging listen.
When this lot challenge you, though, they’re quick to toss you a treat in reward. After “To Fly or Not to Fly” breaks into a brooding maelstrom of guitar, “The Trouble With Candyhands” makes itself known as one of those Deerhoof songs that could be a cheesy old movie theme by some Swing Era big band…except being fed through a short-circuiting shredder. A refrain of “when you bring me flowers” brings about the album’s sunniest spot thus far, ensuring with an ace piano line that it rivals Deerhoof vs Evil cut “Behold a Marvel in the Darkness” in terms of grin-inducing properties.
“We Do Parties” is a very odd track even by Deerhoof standards, its almost free-form feel perhaps necessitating a few listens before it starts to hang together and reveal its craft, while in “Thus spake the jungle drunk / The new love machine” we have either one of this year’s most intriguing lyrics or one of this year’s most misheard lyrics. (Apologies to all concerned/affected if it’s the latter.) Meanwhile “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III” pitch-shifts some, er, groovy party screams so that they take in three separate notes, going on to bumrush another of those inimitable ‘theme tune mash-ups’ into thirty seconds of discordant club music at its end.
Suitably titled closer “Fete D’Adieu” offers interjections of laid-back power chords amidst twinkly, sun-kissed melodies and Matsuzaki singing about a “muscle in the heart” (again: or so it sounds to Rocksucker), bringing the curtain down on eleventh album of confounding, perplexing and utterly enthralling music courtesy of this tireless, perennially inspired group. Roll on the next one!
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Breakup Song is out now on ATP Recordings. For more information please visit deerhoof.net