With every successive album, it becomes clearer that Deerhoof
just do whatever they feel like doing. They’re not caving to expectations, playing to genres, or running with a set of strict rules. Their albums feel instinctual, and that’s not just because of Satomi Matsuzaki’s childlike vocals: whether its interlocking guitar shredding or cathartic drum pounding that fuses jazz dexterity with metal intensity, four musicians who have been playing together for a decade and a half naturally have that kind of chemistry. Somehow, the end results always manage to both impress and sound “like Deerhoof,” free-wheeling experimentalism that re-discovers the band’s own sound while also producing viscerally new and affecting music.
So when Deerhoof have a new album out called Breakup Song, it’s entirely safe to assume that it isn’t going to end at a bunch of brokenhearted ballads. The Deerhoof take on the end of a relationship seems to be reveling in the ability to go out, maybe hit a few clubs and dance like no one knows you. While the album opens with the breakup, Matsuzaki’s not too distraught: “When you say it’s all over/ Hell yeah/ Hell yeah/ Anyway.” No one’s going to be listening to this while crying and staring at the phone, but rather using it to realize that sometimes the breakup isn’t the end but the beginning. “If you would care to join me/ Now I am going dancing,” she croons on “Zero Seconds Please”. The relationship and breakup are both in the rearview, reveling instead in freedom around every corner. ”Let it go/ Leave it all behind,” she repeats over the thunking bass and guitar twists of “Flower”. This isn’t about looking back, but at embracing the positivity of major chords and a slinky rhythm.
While the title of their last album, Deerhoof Vs. Evil, set the band up as a character in an epic, Breakup Song is their most thematically unified album since the journeys of Milk Man. It’s not necessarily as heavy-handed as the phrase “concept album” suggests, yet Matsuzaki’s lyrics are a force for freedom to be reckoned with. Behind them, Breakup Song’s instrumentation puts significant distance from the majority of the Deerhoof catalog. The stabs of horns and complex polyrhythms that bring a Latin flair might be the most notable addition, but there are also flashes of electronic dance floor brashness where they’d typically use wonky squiggles. Both the synth bravado that opens “To Fly Or Not To Fly” and the gritty guitar distortion on “Breakup Songs” fit somewhere into the Crystal Castles/HEALTH region of the musical map, rather than the often child-like silliness of iconic Deerhoof tracks like “Basketball Get Your Groove Back”.
However, Deerhoof albums will always have the jet-fueled guitar core, and the interplay of “There’s That Grin” show John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez’s ability to bring kinetic energy to any setting, familiar or otherwise. The intelligent playfulness of Matsuzaki’s dada vocal delivery similarly allows Deerhoof to walk that tightrope, finding their artful pop hooks no matter how many changes they make to their albeit extraordinarily flexible formula.
By the time things get along to “The Trouble With Candyhands”, Matsuzaki works in front of a mechanized big band horn section set to rumba, the guitars chugging in opposite directions as a xylophone plinks out a counterpoint to her melody. While the connection to the theme is relatively vague (a “bad boy” brings her flowers, and she’s only letting him have “one phone call”), the speedy staccato two-step makes for one of the most rapid appeals on the album. The frenzied energy of “We Do Parties” wiggles with bass-y synth and Saunier’s typically rabid (yet also precise) percussion, and even their slow song (“Fete D’Adieu”) brightly sways with innocent cheerfulness and talk of “a robot on the dance floor/ A muscle in the heart.”
While it’s true that Breakup Song barely breaks the half-hour mark, it’s really a compliment when the biggest complaint is that a few of the songs don’t stick around long enough. On this album, Deerhoof get into your veins, smash the ice off of your broken heart, inject some saccharine bounce, and get out again without a moment of hesitation. They’ve discovered the Deerhoof way to fuse synths and a pack of jazzy trumpets onto their art-pop exo-skeleton, all without losing what made them them. Anyone capable of naming a song “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III”– and fitting that unwieldy title into an instantly memorable melody– deserves serious praise, and that’s just one of Breakup Song‘s many ecstatic charms.
Essential Tracks: “The Trouble With Candyhands”, “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III”, and “Fete D’Adieu”