April 5, 2007

Raging Messy But Nice

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I don’t like Deerhoof as much as I used to, but don’t you dare tell her. Ragging on Deerhoof is like punching your kid brother in the throat for asking you to “be” Slimer, in a hetero-male version of house. That shit’s too cute! But let us respectfully lament the loss of Deerhoof’s cross-eyed, youthful aggression: their stomping, undressed rock and those punctuating lyrics. With Friend Opportunity, Deerhoof has wizened their arrangements and complicated their lyrics into playful narratives. The trashcan band fronted by Hello Kitty is now headlining at a children’s theatre near you.
Deerhoof has filled the breathless silences of their pared-down Apple O’-era sound with scattered beats, floozy horns and lots of bells. The band is creating their own brand of rag-tag pop —one informed by bizarro jazz, campy synth-pop and the avant-rock structures they explored headlong until 2005’s The Runners Four.
Track “Believe E.S.P.” swims along an orchestration of cowbell, “La-La-Las,” and goofy brass spurts. Someone else writes this track and I’m slapping down some Motrin. But Friend Opportunity emerges with tact, even dazzling in parts. Despite ostensible attempts at lyrical range and cohesion (i.e. multi-word choruses), Deerhoof smirks out at least half their lyric sheet. Long-time vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki is still prominently featured, now in full stereo sound, emphasizing lilt where she usually barked cutesy affectations (which were awesome). While Satomi lacks range, her puppy voice remains rousing due to the cheeky lyrics Deerhoof conjures up: “It’s a drag. It’s a drag. It’s a vee-shus drag.” Evidently they don’t take themselves as seriously as that plaintive piano backing implies — most certainly a benefit for their more jaded crowd.
The more structured Deerhoof featured on Friend Opportunity has enough new flavor to keep me from longing for what they left behind. “Cast Off Crown” — the delectable centerpiece — is Deerhoof reaching out for the golden ring and grabbing it, and then grabbing another because they damn well can. In one swoop, Deerhoof has rendered pointless the catalogues of a handful of indie pop bands. John Dietrich’s tearing riff and Greg Saunier’s swelling drum charge opens the song before an unexpected diminuendo introduces a chimey synth-melody fit for “edgy” insurance advertisements. The interlude drifts slightly, before being swept up again by hi-hats and wiley riffs.
I’m able to gather my jaw after “Cast Off Crown” thanks to a segue into the pleasingly off-kilter but wholly biteless “Kidz Are So Small.” After some filler, Deerhoof recovers, but the final suite is the weakest section of the album. The 10 minute coda, “Look Away,” is a stretch for a band whose average track time is pushing two and a half minutes. It’s as if the band felt the need to tidy up the loose ends left about by the prior nine tracks. But Deerhoof is supposed to be messy, that’s why I like them.