Release Date: Jun 24, 2016
Record label: Polyvinyl
Deerhoof are a bunch of eccentric rock’n’rollers who know as well as you or I that neurosis is the flavour of the day. The sure-footedness of domineering/profiteering Top-40s radio is responsible. Outside the unconstrained nucleus of the music industry, what can a poor boy wanna do but freak ‘em all out? The Magic, Deerhoof’s splendid new record, is fraught with neurotic tumult.
Otherworldly and full of enchantment, Deerhoof's 13th studio album, The Magic, finds the wholly original and ever-engaging band at their most cohesive and versatile — which is saying a lot, given their dynamic history. The band entrance from track one, "The Devil and his Anarchic Surrealist Retinue," as driving guitar and drums rumble along into a spirited and highly melodic chorus that emphasizes Satomi Matsuzaki's airy vocals. The bridge takes things down a notch, as calmer rhythmic interplay provides a pause before launching back into the raucous chorus.
Fourteen. Fourteen albums and still going strong. After years writing that much material, you would think a band would alloe themselves to get comfortable. But not for Deerhoof. The Magic proves that they have just as many tricks up their sleeves as ever. Deerhoof utilized a buffet of genres and ….
Avant rockers Deerhoof have reinvented themselves with each successive work. In that tradition, album number 14 is a radically different beast from last year’s pop-indebted La Isla Bonita. Written and recorded over the space of a week at an “abandoned office space in the middle of the desert in New Mexico”, it has a rough’n’ready recording quality that reflects its abrasive contents.
My magic moment for Deerhoof — the moment I realized the band could do whatever they wanted and make it sound amazing — comes at the end of The Runners Four, about halfway into “Rrrrrrright.” The song starts up like a ragged motorbike, and you think it’s going to be another charged, satisfying Kraut-y thing that indie bands do from time to time. But no, the song throws you for a loop, because the beat gets too off-kilter and proggy, kind of mean but kind of happy too, and you can’t quite tell where it’s headed, even while trying to anticipate every next move. Then it stops, suddenly, until it starts squawking like a dying chicken.
So you’re one of your generation’s most hyper-creative and hard-to-pin-down acts, riding a hot streak that lasts well over half of your 20-year-plus existence. Why not try to compress that creativity into a seven-day-blur of writing and recording? Works for Deerhoof. But then again it’s so them to knock out an album like this; to just turn up, plug in and somehow produce 15 songs in less than half the number of days.
On albums like La Isla Bonita and Breakup Song, Deerhoof took a back-to-basics approach, concentrating on joyful blasts of noise pop and surprising funk. With The Magic, they look back even further, borrowing inspiration from the music they loved as children. Given the youthful wonder and spontaneity that drive their music -- no matter how sophisticated their ideas and playing are -- it's an inspired concept.
Deerhoof have long been the recipients of glowing, sometimes bemused epithets—foot-stomping, manic, spazzy, fractured, scary—yet what often gets lost beneath all their dizzying feats of violent kitsch is just how important recording is to the overall feel of their records. With each new release, the band have almost always eschewed high-profile producers and studios in favor of taping their craziness themselves, and with each new release, they’ve chopped-and-changed their taping methods so as to endow said craziness with a different aura and personality. For 2014’s La Isla Bonita they ditched the Oakland rehearsal space of The Runners Four and Deerhoof vs.
It’s hard to pinpoint what “consistency” means in the context of a restless band like Deerhoof, who have spent the past 20 years crafting record after record of experimental rock music—each sounding distinct from one another but also sounding unmistakably like Deerhoof. While it’s true a single moment of their inscrutable avant-pop can sometimes recall other artists—a garage-y guitar riff, a Stereolab-y keyboard part, a Fugazi drum roll—each Deerhoof record (or even song) mashes all of these things together in a way that feels completely exclusive to them. It should be no surprise then that The Magic stands out from the rest of their output while still being “another Deerhoof record.
Satomi Matsuzaki had only been in the United States (after emigrating from Japan) for a matter of days when she joined San Francisco’s Deerhoof in 1995. A week later, she was on the road opening for Caroliner, and a couple of years later, she was recording Deerhoof’s 1997 debut album, The Man, the King, the Girl. That record introduced the world to the whimsical voice of Matsuzaki and the band’s raw, experimental songwriting.
Deerhoof have been wreaking merry havoc on record for almost 20 years and show no signs of mellowing here. Fifteen tracks flash by in just over 40 minutes, and you emerge feeling both energised and slightly baffled by their erratic artpop. There’s plenty to explain why the band remain a cult concern: singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s naive vocals and lyrics can be grating, and not everyone is drawn to songs entitled The Devil and His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue.
San Francisco’s Deerhoof have never been a band interested in convention and conformity. Unpredictable, erratic and anarchic are all words which could be used to accurately describe them. In spite (or often because) of this, they’re a band that have received almost universal critical acclaim over a twenty-two year career. When everything a band touches seems to turn to gold, how do they keep things fresh and exciting for themselves? They swap their studio for an abandoned office space in the New Mexico desert, plug in and attempt to capture ‘The Magic’.
Ever since the release of Deerhoof vs. Evil in 2009, the normally rambunctious San Francisco ensemble has seemed somewhat restrained. The improvisation that punctuated Milk Man and The Runner's Four has vanished. Instead, the contents of Breakup Song and La Isla Bonita brought about a purer, more consistent reliance on melody.
God bless Deerhoof for never growing tired of being Deerhoof. In the time it takes most two-decade-old bands to make a record, Deerhoof makes three. Shattered kick drums litter the San Francisco band’s trajectory. Deerhoof makes music recklessly and wildly, but with great skill and a premium on sweetness.
“Always different, always the same,” said John Peel of The Fall, and in time this quote has entered the lexicon enough for Google autocomplete to fill in the rest when one types the first two words. It’s easy to understand, despite having the air of a backhanded compliment, and easily adaptable; mostly, though, it gets used to describe alternative rock bands who are uncommercial, venerable and possess a steady workrate, like The Fall. And like tireless American postpunk reshapers Deerhoof, whose thirteenth album The Magic is their best since, oh, one that was released long enough ago to telegraph that these guys still sound vital and you should definitely carry on reading this review.
Scratch any experimental-rock musician and you’ll usually find mainstream urges lurking just below the surface; think about those sturdy Kiss covers by the Melvins, or the Madonna tribute members of Sonic Youth cranked out on “The Whitey Album,” credited to Ciccone Youth. Fans of the feisty San Francisco quartet Deerhoof recently gained similar insight via a limited-edition mixtape provided with pre-ordered copies of “The Magic,” the band’s 16th studio album. Included on the bonus release were such date-stamped gems as “Live to Tell” by Madonna (her again), Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away,” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.
How many bands can you name - from any era - that have had a run of albums as strong as Deerhoof's during the aughts? From Reveille to Offend Maggie, the band was on an unstoppable rampage of fearless experimentation and one-upmanship, each album sounding radically reinventive while still bearing their unmistakable signature. All that working hard and playing harder was bound to slow a little, especially after the members relocated to different cities in 2011. But even a reduced workload hasn't taken them out of the art-rock vanguard.
For almost any other band, naming your LP The Magic might seem a little hubristic. But not for Deerhoof. After over 20 years together, they are still at it. Their decades of work together does seem somehow magical; they seem to have access to some never-ending well of creativity. The Magic was made ….