As a band, Deerhoof is like that fourth kid during the song, “Three of These Kids Belong Together”, who is off doing something directly in contrast to the other three in a four-way TV split screen. To understand the band is to realize that their music, at its best, is subversion by creative brilliance. It’s not a stance, but a genuine joy for the imaginative in music — which is why no one knows what the hell to expect with a new Deerhoof record. The album title itself, “Breakup Song”, toys with the concept of what a record is, namely that a group of 11 songs are labeled by a name that suggests a single. Perhaps it’s the band’s way of immediately signaling to listeners that they’re supposed to think of the album as a long song or a loosely conceptual endeavor. It makes sense, because many of the tracks on “Breakup Song” are about love in some way or another, or rapture by another name: freedom, abandon, passion, joy.
The opening title-track turns out to be unlike any breakup song you’re ever likely to hear. Initially you might think you’re listening to the noise rock of Sleigh Bells’ “Treats”, until you hear the casual twee voice of leader singer and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki singing the exuberant first verses that are celebratory rather than lovelorn: “When you say it’s all over / When you say it’s all over / Hell yeah, hell yeah”, followed by the dispassionate throwaway phrase, “Anyway, anyway, anyway …” One album-title and one song into the record and expectations are already toppled. The rough-edged guitar, like a stuttering saw blade, rattles its way into the second cut, where its intermittent beat flows naturally into “There’s That Grin”, a gutter-grind booty bouncer that should get anyone’s head bobbing to its nasty rhythm — highlighted by Matsuzaki’s marvelously nonsensical and playful verse, “Where’s the green room? / Make me fall in love with you, again.”
It’s a credit to the band’s eclectic nature and its inventiveness that every Deerhoof fan tends to zero in on one or two specific albums as the tell-tale for the group’s artistry. Ask one fan, and you’ll get, “Deerhoof was at its best on ‘The Runner’s Four’, where they figured out how to rock out.” Or you’ll get some diehard who says, “Oh, man, I really love Deerhoof when they let loose, like the schizophrenic ‘Milk Man’.” Deerhoof is a contradictory band — one that likes to stake a claim to pop music, but actually sets itself apart by its avant-garde tendencies. Deerhoof is just too talented to do anything other than to be itself. That’s not to say that drummer Greg Saunier’s self-professed love of “pop music” without the “Grammy-baiting sob stories” is a put-on, or that his description of “Fête D’Adieu” as “Keith Richards joins ABBA” is a complete goof. On the contrary, Deerhoof’s love for slick hooks, vocal melody, Cubano-rhythms, piano ditties, and the like, is evidenced in slices and riffs littered throughout “Breakup Song”. The fusion-fueled track, “The Trouble With Candyhands”, is heavy on the mambo beat, melding a number of distinct styles into a hybrid beauty that can only be described as Deerhoof-ian. What exactly is Deerhoof-ian? It’s a 100-miles-an-hour attitude mixed with an audacious pop and art-rock indulgence, sustained by unpredictable musical transitions and wild originality.
Okay, so that previous sentence is a mouthful; a bag of adjectives. But that’s about the best way to explain the skittish, delirious, electronic scaling and frenetic percussion of “Bad Kids to the Front”. It’s also the best way to describe how a listener will hardly be able to catch their breath at the end of “We Do Parties” with its line about “the new love machine”, before the high-voltage guitar, wild tribal-thumps and sick screeching of “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III” hits the heart and head from another direction entirely. It only seems logical at this point to mention that Deerhoof has a song on the new record entitled, “Zero Seconds Pause”. Even within the individual songs themselves, transitions flower like matryoshka dolls. They move from math-rock progressions into rapidly-changing melodies, into guttural guitar riffs, into blippy electronics, blending aphoristic strangeness, unsettling sonics, wild polyrhythms, grating explosions, dizzying grooves, euphonious pop melodies and weirded-out agitation. It gives the impression that each song is forever expanding, pulsing with the ornate and the primitive, the method and the madness. “Fête D’Adieu” (Farewell Party), is an appropos name for the last song on the band’s 11th full-length record, because it ends the album on an upbeat note. It’s Deerhoof at its prettiest and most conventional, full of instrumental and vocal melody. Matsuzaki repeats a chorus that is both sincere and full of non-sequiturs, closing on a beguiling but fun lyric, that can be different things to different listeners, like Deerhoof itself: “I declare the war / Over anymore /Ready for a laugh /Ready to be tough / As a robot on the dance-floor / A muscle in the heart …” Note: Follow the band at facebook, twitter, and soundcloud. All lyrics are unofficial.