When a band like Deerhoof names their record Deerhoof Vs. Evil, it’s clear they’re aware of their existential duality, playing to the fans that adore both the freaked-out psych rock of 2002’s Reveille and the balance of their last record, Offend Maggie. Parts of Deerhoof Vs. Evil are staggeringly pretty. Songs like “Must Fight Current” and “Behold a Marvel in the Darkness” draw from lounge-era rhythms, castanets, gentle bells and chimes, before frying deliciously in John Dieterich’s shit-hot reverb and Greg Saunier’s smoldering and ineffably inventive drumming. Yet for all their increasingly minted accessibility, Deerhoof remain committed musical spastics to the core, reveling in the delight of individual sounds, wringing out fuzzed guitars on “The Merry Barracks,” and retching electronic sounds throughout “I Did Crimes For You.” Tempos change abruptly, and every song sounds like it’s always seconds from becoming untethered. It’s disorienting, and it’s frequently spectacular.
Credit the band for occasionally adding soft, male vocals to complement and add resonance and depth to the proceedings, instead of relying too heavily on Matsuzaki as they have in the past. Her vocals are, still delicately feminine, curiously coy, repetitive and chanting, the difference being that over the course of 11 albums, the band lightens up and gives her cryptic lyrics the chance to feel less a part of the band’s ferocious melee, and more a purposeful singularity. This is the sound of a band that wants insidiously to be heard, felt, and understood, even if they would never admit it.
For a band to be considered experimental while staying on the rails and in eardrums is an aspiration that Deerhoof have long since pursued. Milk Man, the San Franciscan outfit’s 2004 effort, began a trend towards more traditional song structures, and accessible melodies, even as it boasted truly nightmarish cover-art, of a cartoon character being stabbed in the groin with a banana. Only a year later, The Runners Four showcased even more artistic growth, and better artwork, but at 20 tracks, it frequently felt overlong and gratuitous, a period of undeniable creative leakage that could have benefited from judicious editing. Deerhoof Vs. Evil embraces brevity more than anything else they’ve done, breezing by in 12 concise songs that condense the group’s tricks and treats into a mature, measured work.
Measured, remember, is a relative term in such music. Deerhoof are still beyond the reach of casual fandom. The band still requires patience, and a healthy digestion phase to fully appreciate their work. Here, they seem to be utterly content with that distinction. For every gracefully melodic hook of which there are surprisingly many, Deerhoof Vs. Evil is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, retaining plenty of the rough, scattered charms that originally won enthusiasms from listeners and critics alike. Whether you’re receptive to Deerhoof’s newest will be determined by how closely you’ve followed their slow, but steady path towards harnessing their abundant energies, and whether or not you think it’s directed at the right targets.
Bearsuit – Oh:Io
Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Erase Errata – Other Animals
Stream: Deerhoof “The Merry Barracks”