Going into any Deerhoof album, it’s best to keep in mind a few important factors: 1. Deerhoof don’t repeat themselves very often; 2. Deerhoof don’t release bad albums; and 3. The first time around, almost every Deerhoof record is disorienting, or even utterly baffling. Thumb through the band’s extensive discography, and you’ll find that this, for the most part, holds up as a pretty consistent rubric. Through their nearly two decades as a band, Deerhoof have made a lot of dramatic changes to their approach, intensifying in some places while scaling back in others, yet at no point has this proven to be an ill-advised strategy. No matter how weird or how (gasp) normal the band gets, the transformation ultimately is likely to pay off.
To wit: Breakup Song, the band’s eleventh album, takes another turn into uncharted territory — namely an electronically-enhanced pop album touched up with themes of love and relationships (oddly, a first for the band) — and no matter how far the band has traveled to this point, its 11 songs only serve to prove that an inability to sit still has the wonderful side effect of continually yielding wonderful surprises.
From the outset, Breakup Song seems glitchier than usual, its leadoff track “Breakup Songs” clanging and clunking like a rusty robot. Though it’s best not to interpret this as a reflection of heartbreak that its title might suggest; singer Satomi Matsuzaki answers her own “Will you say it’s all over?” with a hearty “Hell yeah!” It’s a fitting introduction for an album that’s, like most Deerhoof albums, about taking things apart, only to put them back together again. All the familiar elements of a Deerhoof album are here — Greg Saunier’s abrasively playful guitars, Matsuzaki’s sing-song vocal chants, well-timed eruptions of violence — but they appear in slightly less familiar form than usual. “There’s That Grin” is archetypal Deerhoof by the sum of its parts; taken as a whole it’s an insidiously funky romp. And “Zero Seconds Pause,” with its looping fuzz bassline, takes a dramatic transition toward massively synthed out stadium pop.
As is frequently the case with a band so consistently hard to pin down as Deerhoof, some of the least expected tracks are those that turn out to be the catchiest. The fluid transitions between exotic guitar plucks and ascendant chorus on “Mothball the Fleet” is a sublime revelation, and the mambo chop-up in “The Trouble With Candyhands” is just too damn fun. The downside of a record of perpetual reinvention is that the more radical the change, the more difficult it is to repeat past glories. Given those peaks are as lofty as The Runners Four or Friend Opportunity, Breakup Song stands as merely a really good Deerhoof album rather than a great one. Or, to look at it a little more optimistically, it’s 30 minutes of small victories, uninterrupted.