Deerhoof : Future Teenage Cave Artists

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There comes a time when any creator has to sit back and question the intent of their future efforts. Of every boundless font of creation, there seems to be a limit, whether self imposed or bred from the changing of the times. Deerhoof is one such band whose career has yielded an outsize body of work: Future Teenage Cave Artists is the 16th full length album in a career that spans nearly 26 years. Within those 26 years Deerhoof has pushed the boundaries of indie rock with often raucous experimentation. However, considering their prolific output, there’s a lingering question of what’s left to say or to be added to their legacy.

The title track is a fine opener, letting a watery guitar along an oscillating, arpeggiated keyboard stretch and pull, providing enough space for Satomi Matsuzaki and Greg Saunier’s vocals to emerge. Aesthetically the soundscape is a particularly inspired shoegaze set against noise rock, which seems counterproductive on paper. Yet here, it works. It’s oddly gentle and fragile in its composition, yet feels dilapidated, about to break at any moment.

Some classical guitar work is on display on “Sympathy for the Baby Boo” along with beautiful harmonic accents. The track’s sluggish momentum and funk-inspired messy chord progressions keep an engaging and cohesive aesthetic that feels as if it’s building a continuum off of the first track. In terms of vocals there’s just enough pop affectation to give the central melody staying power.

Deerhoof pushes into some interesting explorations of lower end tonalities, such as on “O Ye Saddle Babes,” where a staggered guitar lingers with an awkward gait until a cacophony of instruments take over, and another hollow guitar elucidates some control over the chaos, producing a groove that just shouldn’t exist. It’s a bit of progressive magic that Deerhoof has comfortably displayed. However funk typically dominates the middle of the album, especially on “New Orphan Asylum for Spirited Deerchildren.” This transition works, as much as it doesn’t at the same time—there’s clear hesitation to commit, as it goes against Deerhoof’s style to begin with. Yet this genre dialogue between funk and warped noise rock doesn’t quite flow, as it’s just too discordant. However, toward the end of the album a track like “Fraction Anthem,” with its bleary guitars, provide a warm, almost elegiac tone, evoking a calm beauty with twinkly notes and a warm bass. It’s leisurely pace and callback accent melody turns this track into a fractured, jazz ode. It’s one of the most consistent and oddly traditional tracks on the album.

Deerhoof’s more consistent and less experimental efforts tend to be the most solid here. “Reduced Guilt” is one of the only tracks that feels menacing at first, hollow and dissonant even with its raging full suite of percussion. The second half of the track segues into Deerhoof’s signature fluctuating soundscapes. It’s a robust track that feels dark and mature, with a focused composition. The album ends with “I Call on Thee,” a traditional and truly beautiful composition that belies and subverts the expectation of anything outside the lines occurring here. It’s an unexpectedly humble and focused highlight.

Future Teenage Cave Artists is a dreamy and often rich journey. However, while often hypnotic, it still remains inconsistent. Tracks are almost perfectly cut and refuse to overstay their welcome or premise, and for as much rampant experimentation occurs, there’s no sense that any one sonic motif is overdone. Deerhoof are likewise deliberate in incorporating lyrics that can bend as instruments would, focusing more on phonetics than true meaning.

Coming from such a prolific band, Future Teenage Cave Artists is never anything less than interesting. While it comes up short in having any kind of emotional center, it’s a sheer pleasure to listen to, fluctuating with a controlled manic chaos that inspires as much as it delights. Does it push any boundaries or explore new territories? By their standards, not as much as it could. But it’s another consistently entertaining and confident delivery of indie weirdness.

Label: Joyful Noise
Year: 2020

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