Deerhoof sidled their way into my life. I can’t be sure when, but let’s say 2004, some website or other, let’s say Pitchfork, which I can’t be sure when I started reading but let’s say 2004, linked to a Deerhoof EP that was available for free download. Back then, way back then, this seemed an incredible, bounteous novelty so I clicked, saved and, as seems to be the average with free content, forgot.
When ‘The Runners Four’ did well in the End Of 2005 lists, I bought it. I was carefree back then. In fact, I bought almost everything from the Pitchfork top 10 of that year and listened to some more often and intently than others. It was months, maybe more than a year, before I really tried with the Deerhoof record. I found it intriguing, if perhaps a little too sprawling and obtuse for immediate gratification. It did provide one breakthrough however: the realisation that the odd music which had infrequently popped up on my shuffling iPod over the preceding couple of years, with no track, album or artist names, must have been that ignored free EP, now of 2 years vintage. Even heard at arms length, whilst washing up or driving, the ingredients were so distinctive – slanted constructions, meticulous instrumentations and a beguilingly detached Japanese vocalist – and were, once placed, impossible to mistake.
If you’ve only read about this San Franciscan ‘noise pop’ outfit without hearing them – and even now written words are still easier to come by than recorded sounds – then you could be forgiven for expecting a smart-assed barrage of slanting dissonance, jazz inflected jiggery-pokery and obscurantist capering. In fact Deerhoof are one of the most delightful, endearing and rewarding bands around, writing tightly focussed but jubilant songs which absolutely bubble over with ideas, fun and weirdly saccharine hooks. Atop this lie Satomi Matsuzaki’s famously deadpan vocals which perform the neat trick of severing Deerhoof from any immediate associations. It’s a useful, perhaps vital, effect, buying time for the listener to focus on the music and become enchanted, rather than scrabbling to reach the right comparison.
‘Deerhoof Vs Evil’ is their 10th studio album, released in 2011. It’s brief, barely over 30 minutes, and punchy, its 12 songs averaging slightly less than 3 minutes in length. Despite, or perhaps because of, this each track is focussed, polished both in sound and performance, and each packs at least one, sometimes two, maybe three, great ideas be they daring rhythms, nagging or infectious guitar lines, insistent bass-lines or gigglingly gleeful lyrics. Where the band can drag at times, on this record they don’t. Every song is a winner with at least one moment almost guaranteed to raise a smile even on a face as worn-out and hard to move as mine.
Some critics saw this album as a regrettable consolidation from a band they had grown used to hearing break new ground. It’s actually the sound of a band distilling what they do best into a delightful confection.
Tom Listened: I was pleasantly surprised by Deerhoof vs Evil finding it far less discordant and difficult than I feared it would be. That said, Deerhoof are still some way from sidling into my life…I remember finding the experience of listening to this record interesting and enjoyable, but I have yet to feel compelled to pull the copy of Apple ‘O I own off my shelf and give it a spin (it’s one of the few records I posess that I have yet to listen to all the way through), yet I think it’s the idea of Deerhoof and the perceived awkwardness of the music that puts me off rather than the actual songs they sing. I know this makes me weird and I am sure that at some point I will give Apple ‘O a proper chance but, judging by Rob’s own relationship with the band, perhaps this is the way it is meant to happen!