As far as weird goes, few bands are capable of outdoing Deerhoof. At times painfully noisy and abrasive, at others, innocently childlike, and somewhere in-between, just plain rockin’, with plenty of bizarre time signatures interrupting otherwise catchy tunes. However, when guitarist Chris Cohen left the band to work on his own project, Curtains, he clearly had it in mind to maintain that level of weird, albeit in almost a completely different way, primarily by using lots of space and silence to do the speaking where noise otherwise would have taken central stage. But they’re still, and I don’t feel like an idiot for saying so, very weird.
Being weird is partly the point of being an artist, and Chris Cohen most certainly plays art rock. In fact he plays all of the art rock on Calamity, Curtains’ third, making it a legitimately solo affair, save for some vocals by Nedelle Torrisi and Yasi Perera, and some trombone courtesy of Half Handed Cloud’s John Ringhofer. Cohen’s weird is not necessarily an unsettling or a grating weird, but his melodies and arrangements are so spare and spacey, it only occasionally ventures toward any type of standard pop songwriting. But forget about pop songwriting, really. That’s not what Cohen’s music now or in the past was ever about.
Examine the arrangement on “Go Lucky”—lonely plinks of a piano are juxtaposed against gently strummed guitar and Cohen’s soft, concise vocals. It’s accessible, sure, but it’s barely there, a wisp of a song, breezy yet escalating toward a louder conclusion toward the end of the song. Despite its quiet nature, it’s one of the few tracks to contain something resembling a pop song structure. “Green Water” is much more like Deerhoof, and for that matter, more garage-y and even kinda catchy. “Wysteria” is where Cohen really drops the bizarre, dragging out single words through effects-laden vocals, separated by silences of three or so seconds, and backed with an almost Eastern sounding melody, what of it there is.
Cohen’s lyrics are few, but with his abridged words, he creates just as much surreal imagery. On “World’s Most Dangerous Woman,” he sings “Jenny Proudfoot changed her name/world’s most dangerous woman.” Or how about “Roscomare”: “frown on me or yawn/slipped on the driveway/slipped on the lawn.” And the nearly atonal chanting of “invisible string, invisible string, invisible string inside” makes for some unsettling listening, even on such a low-volume album such as this. And I suppose Curtains isn’t really about comfort and pleasantries; it’s art. It’s very listenable art, and at that, very cool. Cohen is definitely a master of the melodically unexpected. Fans should know not to expect anything specific by now anyway.
Deerhoof – Runners Four
US Maple – Talker
Open City – Birth of Cruel
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.