(Kill Rock Stars / 5RC)
Record Review by Adam McKibbin
Still crazy after all these years, Deerhoof have survived the recent departure of guitarist Chris Cohen to release their ninth willfully and wonderfully weird album, Friend Opportunity. As befits the newly smaller lineup—they stuck with just the trio of singer Satomi Matsuzaki, drummer/founder Greg Saunier and guitarist John Dietrich—their new album is a return to a leaner sort of album, featuring only 10 tracks (its predecessor, 2005’s The Runners Four, had 20). If you chopped out the meandering closing track, the 11:45-long “Look Away”—and, to be honest, it wouldn’t be much of a loss—you’d be left with an EP-like runtime of around 25 minutes.
But what an EP it would be. Deerhoof are still rather polarizing—anyone who can’t vibe with a high-pitched, semi-babyish voice occasionally singing about animals and anyone who has a phobia of losing sight of song structure should keep a safe distance—but they seem to be becoming somewhat more accessible with age. Aside from Matsuzaki’s decidedly unusual vocal style, there are a number of songs that are fairly conventional in construction. The more abrasively experimental edges in their earlier work have largely been bypassed, possibly because of numerous lineup changes through the years.
“+81,” the lead single that headed its own EP just prior to Christmas, announces itself with some trumpet fanfare, then rides a foot-stomping drumbeat and sharp guitar lick to a typically Deerhoofian chorus (that goes something like this: “Choo-choo-choo-choo beep beep!”). “Matchbook Seeks Maniac” has a traditional build toward a pop-rock payoff in the chorus, and “The Perfect Me” opens the album with galloping urgency, then pulls back to reveal some surprise Stonesy guitar licks in its middle.
There are plenty of such twists and turns, from the freak-funk of “Believe E.S.P.” to the twitchy electronic pulse and hypnotic refrain of “Choco Fight.” “Whither the Invisible Birds?” is a surprising downshift at the center of album, a fairy tale-sounding song featuring Matsuzaki cooing softly over restrained orchestration.
As much as just about any other contemporary band, Deerhoof succeed in destroying the grumpy, mediocrity-justifying myth that everything has been done already, that every song has already been sung. Even their haters should concede that this is a band that takes their shovel and breaks fairly fresh soil on a regular basis.
More by this writer:
The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
Liars / Apes - Live - June 3, 2006
Scout Niblett - Kidnapped by Neptune
Akron/Family - Interview