Deerhoof : Miracle-Level
For nearly 20 years, San Francisco’s DIY experimentalists Deerhoof have existed in a peerless niche of rock music. They go where no band has gone before, blending seemingly antithetical ideas into one bizarre, alluring concoction. Their discography forms a true creative island, noisy but deeply tuneful, jagged but warm, melodically whimsical but thematically poignant.
On their latest, the sprawling Miracle-Level, Deerhoof ring the changes, keen to avoid stasis within their idiosyncratic style. Indeed, perhaps it’s easier to fall into complacency when nobody does what you do. Thus, with Miracle-Level, the band move from the usual DIY recording style to studio production. Similarly, lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki has ditched any English lyrics, writing instead in her native Japanese. The band seem to relish it too—on the unusually seductive “The Little Maker”, Satomi asks her audience, “doesn’t this song sound different from usual Deerhoof? I want to sway side-to-side a little.”
That’s not to say that anything is lost in the transition to a more polished sound. We still have the chaotic arrangements and noisy guitars of tracks like “Sit Down, Let Me Tell You A Story,” “Momentary Art of Soul!”, and “My Lovely Cat!”. We still have Deerhoof’s characteristically poppy melodies filtered through a thick mesh of fuzz, dissonance and instrumental intensity. This particular feature finds its perfect encapsulation in the chorus of “And the Moon Laughs”, an arrangement that sounds like a noise rock reworking of ABBA’s “Waterloo” (granted that might just be me!). Crucially, we also have the moments of unpolluted sweetness that punctuate many of their records. “My Poignant Melody,” “Wedding, March, Flower” and the title track show Deerhoof’s minimalist side; their capacity for aching, lullaby-esque balladry.
There’s a wonderful sense of surprise throughout Deerhoof’s work. When one hears the music alone—full of complex guitar riffs, virtuosic drum performances from Greg Saunier, and crescendoing journeys into abrasive instrumentation—it’s expected that the vocalist will indulge in the trappings of much prog-adjacent rock music. But then Satomi Matsuzaki enters the frame. Far from the lofty intellectualism and self-seriousness of much experimental rock, Satomi’s lyrics and melodies shatter any expectations. The lyrics can be poignant and thematically serious—previous albums have tackled fascism, environmental crisis, anti-capitalism, etc.—but without any accompanying delusions of grandeur. Delivered through Satomi’s delicate falsetto, the writing remains grounded, the occasional surrealism rooted more in playful whimsy than heady pretension.
Musically, the band is as thrilling as ever. On the multi-phased instrumental, “Jet-Black Double-Shield”, we hear them at their heaviest, the severe guitars mapping an eerie, claustrophobic descent into darkness. The sense of genuine jeopardy and paranoia interrupts any illusions that Deerhoof are purely sweet noise-pop. In fact, it’s difficult to say Deerhoof are purely anything. Any assumptions of genre or tone are swiftly disrupted upon further listening. The sombre mood of the title track’s intro is swiftly interrupted by a gloriously fun slide-guitar passage. The sugary, raucous tone of “And The Moon Laughs” is followed by the sultry atmosphere of “The Little Maker” (a style scarcely found in Deerhoof’s catalogue). One song later, the grungy chorus of “Phase-Out All Remaining Non-Miracles by 2028” gives way to spiky math-rock verses. This is perhaps Deerhoof’s greatest asset: an inability to stay still and let audiences settle. Like any great experimenter, Deerhoof keep moving forwards surprising their audience at every turn.
Label: Joyful Noise
Noah Sparkes is a UK-based culture writer specialising in film, TV, and music. With a particular interest in the intersection of culture, politics, and history, Noah has written in a variety of outlets.