Anyone who has ever listened to Deerhoof knows that everyone in that group is ridiculously talented. I would think most fans also know that Deerhoof founding member and drummer Greg Saunier graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory with a degree in Music Composition in 1991. If, maybe, you didn’t know that, then hopefully it now sheds some light on the complex nature of the many rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic twists and turns throughout Deerhoof’s extensive output.
Well, this isn’t a Deerhoof album. This album is, rather, a collaboration between Deerhoof and Chicago-based 22-piece contemporary music group Dal Niente. The result is nothing short of stunning.
Marcos Balter’s compositions, the seven-part “meltDown Upshot” and “Pois que nada que dure, ou que durando” are every bit as complex and engaging as anything found in Deerhoof. Satomi Matsuzaki’s delicat voice, though normally in considerable contrast to Deerhoof’s unbridled, and sometimes thrashing arrangements, is actually complemented here by the orchestration.
On “meltDown Upshot: Part 5, Home” Matsuzaki is accompanied by piano and violins before a distant sounding shuffling snare enters, sounding like an intimate lounge engagement. At the next vocal entrance the voice is doubled by horn, with the ensemble continuing to grow, eventually including glassy, sul tasto string work.
Many of the “meltDown Upshot” songs benefit from a similar treatment, orchestrating in Saunier’s virtuosic drumming, but never placing it in the spotlight. Instead his snare work manages to remain within its place as ensemble backing. Saunier’s trademarked pushing and pulling of the downbeat is kept in check; obviously an element of his style that may work within the context of a four-piece live rock band, but not so much with a twenty-two piece ensemble.
“Pois que nada que dure, ou que durando” I just want to mention because of its use of quarter-tones as prime melodic material. That’s not the only thing that sets this work apart from the “meltDown Upshot” pieces, as “Pois que…” is orchestrated much more spaciously. An air of experimentation surrounds this work, much like some of Deerhoof’s extended works that usually grace the latter third of their albums.The twenty-plus minute “Deerhoof Variations” works really well at tying several separate ideas from across several songs and albums into one unified work. It’s interesting to hear many of the band’s ideas cast in a much different light.