Deerhoof


(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use)
The Man, The King, The Girl (1997), 7/10
Holdy Paws (1999), 6/10
Halfbird (2001), 5/10
Reveille (2002), 6.5/10
Apple O' (2003), 6.5/10
Milk Man (2004), 5.5/10
The Runners Four (2005), 5/10
Friend Opportunity (2007), 6/10
Offend Maggie (2008), 6/10
Curtains: Fast Talks (2001), 5/10
Curtains: Flybys (2003), 6/10
Curtains: Vehicles of Travel (2004), 5/10
Curtains: Calamity (2006), 5/10
Common Eider King Eider: How to Build a Cabin (2007), 6/10
Common Eider King Eider: Figs, Wasps and Monotremes (2008), 6/10
Common Eider King Eider: Worn (2010), 6/10
Vs Evil (2011), 5/10
Breakup Song (2012) , 5.5/10
La Isla Bonita (2014), 4/10
The Magic Throughout (2016), 4/10
Mountain Moves (2017), 4/10
Future Teenage Cave Artists (2020), 4/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

San Francisco-based Deerhoof, formed in 1994 by guitarist Rob Fisk and drummer Greg Saunier and inaugurated with the single Return of the Woods (1995), is an avant-pop concept that tries to balance cacophony and melody, abstraction and organization. The EP Deerhoof (Menlo Park, 1996) and the album The Man, The King, The Girl (Kill Rock Stars, 1997) added vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki and occasionally matched the beauty of Captain Beefheart's off-kilter blues and dissonant jamming.

Come See the Duck (Banano, 1998) and Holdy Paws (Kill Rock Stars, 1999), featuring new keyboardist Kelly Goode, indulged in loosely-coupled streams of guitar noise and melody, evoking a more amateurish version of Sonic Youth. The high-pitched voice of Satomi Matsuzaki whines Magic Star, whispers Lady People, indulges in the tender childish lullaby of Satan. The best instrumental moments are to be found in Queen of the Lake (frenzied drumming and hard-rock riffs), Crow (hiccupping post-rock jamming and ethereal operatic vocals), and in the demented The Great Car Tomb. The lengthy threnody of Data is a bit hard to digest. Generally speaking, Deerhoof hark back to the North Carolina movement of Polvo and Superchunk, and seems unaware of Blonde Redhead.

After replacing Fisk with new guitarist John Dieterich, the trio released Halfbird (Menlo Park, 2001), a messy anthology of material recorded over the previous five years.

The more cohesive Reveille (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) wed garage-rock and prog-rock, and a Dadaistic stance, while still indulging in the experimental textures of the first album. The general tone is one of depraved mockery, not unlike early Royal Trux: they invest the Chuck Berry-ian rock'n'roll Holy Night Fever, the childish singalong The Eyebright Bugler, the demented organ sonata All Rise with a sense of low self-esteem. These unorthodox takes on the tradition peak with Hark the Umpire, that sounds like an irreverent parody of garage-rock. Musically, the best results are achieved by a group of songs that, whether deliberately or not, echo the anthemic guitar noise of the Who, each further decorated with disorienting wordless vocals: This Magnificent Bird Will Rise, Our Angel's Ululu and Frenzied Handsome Hello. The four-minute abstract chaotic soundpainting of Days & Nights in the Forest represents the one moment when they abandon any pretense of sticking to the song format. Most of the 16 tracks are very brief, and this is their obvious limit. They basically get serious only once, with the eight-minute The Last Trumpeter Swan, a half-hearted try at replicating the mathematical song structures of Can. Their art of the musical nonsense is often engaging but also a bit aimless.

The brief concept album Apple O' (Kill Rock Stars, 2003) redefined their mission as a deconstruction of the rock song in a vein related to Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Dummy Discards a Heart does have a melodic refrain, although the guitar tries to sabotage it with a quirky counterpoint. One can "feel" the catchy song hiding behind L'Amour Stories but not quite hear it because of the way guitar and bass do "not" play what one expects them to play. Panda Panda Panda merely repeats a senseless pattern until the riff picks up, and it's a riff that could (could) propel a powerful song. Apple Bomb sounds like the parody of a pop ballad until it explodes in a guitar freak-out. The closer, Blue Crash, is the one song that approaches the mainstream. The weakest link is now the vocalist, whose high-pitched voice is, at best, an acquired taste. Deerhoof was becoming less noise and more structure, but the band triumphed precisely in the pieces that denied the whole project, like the miniature instrumental jam of My Diamond Star Car and especially the surreal Sealed With A Kiss.

Unfortunately, Milk Man (Kill Rock Stars, 2004) continued Deerhoof's slide towards friendlier sounds in a rather pedestrian manner, as in the catchy (and unusually long) Milk Man and the eerily evanescent Giga Dance. The electronic quasi-bossanova Desaparecere (vaguely reminiscent of Supertramp), and C, a highly-refined post-rock architecture, which had already been released as a single, displayed remnants of their harmonic genius, as did eccentric lullabies (Song of Sorn, That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light), futuristic novelties (Dog in the Sidewalk) and insane instrumentals (Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain), but, even in its best moments, the band came through as a post-rock version of Brainiac, plus Satomi Matsuzaki's falsetto. To their credit, one must recognize that they are perfecting an art of making the difficult easy, which is, after all, a sign of classicism.

The EP Green Cosmos (Toad, 2005) collects seven short tracks, including a shortened version of the single Come See The Duck.

The Runners Four (Kill Rock Stars, 2005), recorded by a quartet with Saunief, Matsuzaki, and guitarists John Dietrich and Chris Cohen, and mostly composed by Cohen, is their most straightforward poppy effort. Unfortunately the few tunes that deserve to be heard in an age awash in pop tunes (Running Thoughts, Spirit Ditties of No Tone, Siriustar) are drowned in a sea of filler. This should have been an EP.

After Cohen left the band, the Deerhoof released Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars, 2007), that is mostly a pop album with no avantgarde pretenses, although a very elegant one. It features two of their most straightforward compositions, Matchbook Seeks Maniac and especially +81, and a parade of simple refrains over simple riffs dedicated to simple stories (although sometimes not as simple as they appear to be, the mutating Perfect Me being a good example of deceiving innocence). Maybe Deerhoof realized that they had reached the end of the tunnel and decided to capitalize on their experiments. Whatever the reason for the sharp creative turn, the result is an impressive achievement in the realm of pop music, something comparable with what XTC did in the 1980s out of the pretenses of the new wave. Look Away, a 12-minute collage of random sounds, ends the album on an intimidating note, as if to warn that the band's experimental ambitions are not dead yet.

Curtains was the project of guitarist Chris Cohen before Deerhoof. After Fast Talks (2001), Cohen reformed the trio with keyboardist Greg Saunier and drummer Andrew Maxwel to record the collection of mostly instrumental (22) twisted melodic vignettes Flybys (2003) and the more vocal (and less inspired) Vehicles of Travel (2004), adding 23 more songs to the canon. Cohen (who now played several instruments) had to find two new collaborators (guitarist Nedelle Torrisi and keyboardist Annie Lewandowski) for Calamity (2006), that displayed a retro-Sixties sound.

7 Year Rabbit Cycle, a super group of sorts formed by Rob Fisk and Kelly Goode of Deerhoof with Xiu Xiu's vocalist Jamie Stewart and drummer Chest Smith, played avantgarde folk-rock on Ache Horns (Free Porcupine Society, 2006).

Nervous Cop (2003) was a project by Joanna Newsom, Hella's drummer Zach Hill, Deerhoof's drummer Greg Saunier and keyboardist John Dieterich.

There are virtually no new ideas on Deerhoof's Offend Maggie (2008), just a dignified routine of old avant-punks trying to make a living out of cleverly constructed tunes such as Fresh Born and The Tears and Music of Love. The addition of a second guitarist, Ed Rodriguez, did not appear necessary, but then not much of what they did was rational anyway.

Rob Fisk also launched the solo project Common Eider King Eider with the spectral soundscapes of How to Build a Cabin (Yik Yak, 2007). His soliloquy was even more estranged on Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes (Root Strata, 2008), a journey that traversed the sirene-like drones Wasp Tunnels, the minimalist vibrato of Monotreme Mom, soaring to a peak of psychedelic distortion, the mindblowing distorted drone of Cell Towers, Birds, And The 7 Twins That Try, the ecstatic mantra of Talking Ravens, Rotting Figs, etc. Very little goes on in these pieces. The notable exception is the stoned humming and furious guitar glissandoes of Brown Trumps White, that mutates into a tranquil Syd Barrett-style lullaby. Worn (Root Strata, 2010), featuring a quartet, sailed towards a more transcendent mindscape. After an overture of slow waves of vocal and instrumental drones (The Rabbits Will Come Again), the eight-minute When We Sewed Skins sounds like an early Pink Floyd drama, replete with a choral crescendo à la A Saucerful of Secrets. They Want To Dig For Gold is almost a doom-y and shoegazing remix of the same idea. The closer, Earth Liver, is instead a celestial spiritual hymn that is barely whispered.

Deerhoof's Vs Evil (Polyvinyl, 2011) is not any different from its predecessors. It contains the usual dose of eccentric melodic moments (No One Asked to Dance, Super Duper Rescue Heads) and the cute retro instrumental Let's Dance the Jet.

Deerhoof's offshoot Fat Worm Of Error (comprising vocalist Jess Goddard and guitarist Chris Cooper) released collection of eccentric spastic dissonant jams such as Pregnant Babies Pregnant with Pregnant Babies (Load, 2006), Broods (Ecstatic Peace, 2010) and Ambivalence and The Beaker (Resipiscent, 2010).

Common Eider King Eider's Sense Of Place (Aquarius, 2012) includes a video and a book to document the construction of a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. The cassette Earth Liver (Black Horizons, 2013) dwells in the same blend of freak-folk and post-rock, and includes the eleven-minute Amnesia, already released on the EP Amnesia (2010).

Most of Deerhoof's Breakup Song (Polyvinyl, 2012) is trivial dance-rock like We Do Parties (albeit with loud atonal guitars), but there also disorienting post-modernist dances sung in a zombie-like tone Satomi Matsuzaki, namely There's That Grin, that rediscovers the android funk of the new wave, and Bad Kids to the Front, Caribbean drum'n'bass for videogame blips. At the other end of the spectrum, the cha-cha The Trouble with Candyhands is the closest they can get to the catchy, dreamy ye-ye girls of the Sixties, and the pounding samba carnival of Mario's Flaming Whiskers III evokes senseless parties of the same era with a folk Russian melody and a keyboard riff straight from the age of house music. None of this is groundbreaking and most of it is forgettable.

In 2014 Deerhoof's drummer Greg Saunier also recorded in a quartet with jazz giants Anthony Braxton, Nels Cline and Taylor Ho Bynum. A Tangle Of Stars (december 2018) documents a collaboration between jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson and Deerhoof's John Dieterich.

Abandoning the electronic direction of Breakup Song, Deerhoof indulged in rather traditional punk-pop on La Isla Bonita (2014), adding Paradise Girls and Exit Only to their canon of silly ditties. The Magic Throughout (2016) opens with the demented fibrillating The Devil and his Anarchic Surrealist Retinue but everything else is rather bland pop muzak.. Mountain Moves (2017), ostensibly a protest record, features countless guests (including Juana Molina, Laetitia Sadier of Stereoloab, Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, jazz saxophonist Matana Roberts and rapper Awkwafina) but does little to live up to that concept, drenched into trite dance-pop (I Will Spite Survive) and old-fashioned disco-music. At least Con Sordino revisits the genre with comic self-parody. The most original song is Your Dystopic Creation Doesn't Fear You, torn between soul ballad and funky dance. Future Teenage Cave Artists (2020) is another collection of predictable songs like opener Future Teenage Cave Artists with a slightly harder edge, notably in the cacophonic Farewell Symphony.

Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and Greg Saunier presided over the production of the 23-song album Where’s the One (2022), credited to Congotronics International, a follow-up one decade later to Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers (2010), a double-disc album on which 26 non-African artists, notably Aksak Maboul (Marc Hollander being the originator of the project), Animal Collective, Andrew Bird. Deerhoof, Oneida and Sam Shackleton played music inspired by amplified Congolese folk music (namely Konono No 1 and Kasai Allstars). After that first album, a group of rock musicians and Congolese musicians (ten vocalists, five guitarists, three likembe players, five percussionists, two bass players and three drummers) toured Europe. Congotronics International is a hodgepodge of live and studio recording by that hybrid international collective of Western rock musicians (Deerhoof, Juana Molina, Wildbirds & Peacedrums and Skeletons’ Matthew Mehlan) and Congolese members of the bands Konono No 1 and Kasai Allstars.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use)
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