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.
Get Dal Niente & Deerhoof: “Balter/Saunier”
The album was released last April. You can find it digitally or on CD on Bandcamp; or simply digitally on iTunes, and Amazon. You can also hear the album in its entirety above.
Everyone’s favorite San Francisco based fun-time art-pop band, Deerhoof, are preparing to release a follow up to 2011?s Deerhoof Vs. Evil with Breakup Song due in stores on September 4th via Polyvinyl.
They have released a typically quirkily named track, “The Trouble With Candyhands” on the Polyvinyl Soundcloud page that provides us with a short glimpse of their ever evolving sound. The addition of staccato brass adds a bit of a danceable salsa flair to the typically frenetic sound of the band. The guitars are dialed back significantly but Greg Saunier continues to carve intricate, shifting rhythms right through the heart of the song with Satomi’s high falsetto soaring sweetly above the foundation. You can hear snippets from the entire album by popping a token in the Jingletron. Based on this first listen it sounds like Deerhoof are placing a little more emphasis on their electronic leanings that started to show a bit more on Deerhoof Vs. Evil.
With a new album comes a new tour and Deerhoof are ferocious live, so check them out when they come to a town near you. And if you are in Portland, OR for their show (with the equally amazing Buke and Gase opening) I’ll let you buy me a few beers.
Deerhoof, the ultra-quirky indie math rock/pop/irony heavy band is back with an album cheekily titled “Deerhoof Vs. Evil”.
To me Deerhoof is a band that I am constantly curious about. They seem to be combining things that one wouldn’t necessarily think go together. To me they are a study in opposites. Their singer – a tiny Japanese woman with a super-cute (almost too cute) high pitched vocal style – is backed by an at times very heavy hitting team of guitars and drums that explore disjunct math rock meter shifts. The lyrics are often quite simple and repeated over and over again, take for example their infamous song “Panda Panda Panda” where the lyrics are mostly just the song’s title. “Deerhoof Vs. Evil” has Deerhoof sticking to these principles and adding some depth to their music.
The usual noisy and angular guitars are playing a noticeably smaller role, traded instead for acoustics, there is a reliance on quieter aspects of songwriting notably in “No One Asked to Dance” and “I Did Crimes for You”. “No One Asked to Dance” displays a Spanish influenced guitar style that we haven’t heard from Deerhoof before, and is followed, funnily enough, by a song called “Let’s Dance the Jet” which sounds more like something that might be heard on their “Milk Man” album, which to me, is an album that showcases their typical sound. Usually math rock isn’t this sweet and at times this album can be really beautiful. Some songs open up into some really gorgeous, dreamy melodies. There are still a lot of places that pack quite a powerful punch.
Take for example the track “Behold A Marvel in the Darkness” where the lyric that is repeated is “What is this thing called love?”. That line is underpinned by a gentle guitar line, a few bass guitar plucks and sparse drums. It is soon followed by an explosion into a joyous and celebratory sound with a full wall of guitars, drums and cymbals shattering the silence like an atomic bomb. This band can go back and forth from contemplative and sparse to exuberant and loud instantly. They can turn on a dime. The fact that the music is commenting on the lyric is also something that shows a growth in their songwriting.
Sticking with the theme of opposites there is the fact that Deerhoof is adept at creating pop songs that are extremely dense and quite complicated but still fit inside a pop song idiom. The layered, polyrhythmic arrangements that are part of their sound point to drummer/founder Greg Saunier as a major part of the writing process. The complexity is pulled off in such a way that it never seems to belt one over the head. I hardly even noticed the first few times that I listened to the album until I really started to try to pull apart the songs as I listened. That is saying something, considering that it is one of the first things that I will usually listen for when I hear an album, especially coming from a band like this where I have come to expect it.
Pop sensibilities are on display in the standout track “Super Duper Rescue Heads!”. First though, that title. The title of the song alone can give someone who has never heard the band before a pretty good idea of what they are all about. It’s that outward quirkiness that helps to make Deerhoof so accessible. Despite the sense of humor, the music is written and played with a confidence and seriousness, though it’s never too much. They don’t take themselves all that seriously, but there is nothing goofy about them. It’s a fine balance and they manage to keep it always in check.
“Secret Mobilization” starts off sounding like a Stereolab track before drifting into artier territory with the guitar wandering across neighboring harmonies while the drums and bass remain rock steady. The lyrics are repetitive, as usual for this album, which makes me think of another interesting contradictory juxtaposition within the music: it is like complex minimalism with shifting layers that repeat cyclically. The ending of this song explodes as the lead guitar shreds and squeals out a brief lick. The song “Hey I Can” opens percussion heavy with mallet instruments densely layered before schizophrenically jumping into somewhat more clear territory for the verse, and again to the chorus with a drastic shift in tempo that is pulled off so smoothly that it almost passes undetected.
Even the title of the album, “Deerhoof Vs. Evil” is a contradiction. Deerhoof is not the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks about fighting anything, especially something as looming and dangerous as, well, evil itself. They may write songs about superheroes and fighting crime but they are usually remembered for songs about, as mentioned before, pandas or seeing a dog on the sidewalk. Whatever it is that they are doing, all of the elements seem to work well together. Each time that I listen to this album I am only disappointed by the fact that it is over so quickly. The music is so well constructed that the apparent incongruities and maze of contradictions don’t hinder but instead become a part of Deerhoof’s charm and style. It’s why nobody can help but love Deerhoof.