Sunday, 30 January 2011

Review: Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs Evil

Despite their instantly recognisible and inimitable sound, Deerhoof have always found a way to evolve with each release. But on 2008's Offend Maggie it felt for the first time like they were stagnating; perhaps it was to ease new guitarist Ed Rodriguez into the fold, but after the expansive textures of 2007's Friend Opportunity, Offend Maggie seemed like a retreat to the more straight-faced guitar-orientated rock of their 2005 magnum opus The Runners Four. Not that Offend Maggie was anything less than an excellent record, it just felt like an unexpected about-face after Friend Opportunity had presented so many possibilities.

Now that Rodriguez seems fully integrated into the band (as exhibited by their tremendously fun live shows), tenth record Deerhoof vs Evil sees the band's creative cogs in full motion once more. Following on from the three most accessible records of the band's career, Deerhoof vs Evil is as schizoid as anything they've done in recent memory; even a song as irrepressible as Super Duper Rescue Heads! can't help but descend into chaos in its final twenty seconds. The galavanting instrumental Let's Dance The Jet, with its scorched organ and gnashing guitar riff, is about as straightforward as it gets on this album, and even that's a bizzare cover version from some Greek film soundtrack.

That should give some indication of the range of ideas going on in Deerhoof vs Evil. The ear-popping opener Qui Dorm, Només Somia is awash with dubby blips and guitars and sung entirely in Spanish, whilst the fluid flamenco guitars on Noone Asked Me To Dance provide the perfect backdrop for Satomi Matsuzaki's feather-weight vocals. The Merry Barracks lurches from side to side with a five-note motif that cascades from speaker to speaker over the kind of snorting blues riff Jack White would be proud of. Then there's the disorientating tropical swirl of Must Fight Current in which Satomi threatens "I'm going to sue you" whilst guitarist John Dieterich mutters eerily in the background. And that's all within the album's first seven songs.

One glance at the lyric sheet will, as ever, cause considerable bemusement; Satomi opens Secret Mobilization by informing us "this is not based on a true story", as if the tales on this album could have any semblance of reality. The "evil" implied by the album's title might be gauged by the goings-on in I Did Crimes For You; over a procession of handclaps and ominous keyboards, Satomi monotonically tells us "this is a stick-up / smash the windows" in what sounds like the most perverse hold-up since the opening scene of The Dark Knight.

Things peter off in the album's latter third - Hey I Can is Deerhoof-by-numbers and the tuneless C'moon never gets off the ground - leaving vs Evil just shy of  top-drawer Deerhoof. But the album is confirmation if necessary that ten albums in, Deerhoof's ability to confound and surprise remains undiminished.


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