Seasoned Vets Wield Space-Age Hair Metal
To record their newest album The Magic, San Francisco band Deerhoof took off for an abandoned office space in the desert of New Mexico with nothing else in mind but to plug in and play as loud as humanly possible. Written over a seven-day period and released under Polyvinyl Records, The Magic is an eclectic 15 song roundup inspired by the music each member (vocalist and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, guitarists and multi-instrumentalists Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich, and drummer Greg Saunier) feels fondly about.
Beginning with “The Devil And His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue,” The Magic starts off with a roller-coaster of effects, hammering percussion compliments of Saunier and well-leveled vocals. It’s a beautifully balanced chaos, a tumbling joyride and a great first track. Slowing down the cadence while still maintaining immediacy and infused with the cutesy-creepy vocals Matsuzaki is so adept at brandishing, “The Devil and His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue” kicks things off with a bang. “Kafe Mania!” begins like an 80s arena rock track, heavy with distorted guitar before tapering off into an alt-rock styled melody then hitting back into a key clanking, guitar hero motif that gets taken over by strong synths that send you into space. This is a turn up and drive fast track somewhat reminiscent of a combination of Yelle and Of Montreal, with Matsuzaki chanting the names of various espresso beverages (“Cappuccino! Macchiato! Affogato! Cortado!”) in an absurdist, caffeinated way.
“That Ain’t No Life To Me” switches things up and takes them into punk rock territory – “I don’t care how the other half lives, ’cause I’ve seen how the other half dies” croons guitarist Ed Rodríguez over a quick, aggressive and unpolished production that comes together to make a kick ass minute and fifty-two seconds. “Life Is Suffering” is an inverted number, jazzy and metallic with an experimental beat and deceivingly upbeat sound, with Matsuzaki warbling “Life is suffering man – higher and higher and higher!,” in a part that sounds like an honest classic rock cut, before exploding into the most invitingly aggressive roll out that is mosh pit perfection.
“Criminals Of The Dream” lends Queen vibes with distorted guitar, creepy synths and jaunty percussion, jumping between tones and tempos with an agility that can only be credited to solid musicianship and a knack for knowing how to work with sound and aesthetic. Thus far the The Magic is optimistic and electric, silly and bad-ass. “Model Behavior” takes things to funky town, throwing bold bass and horror synth over each other, while “Learning to Apologize Effectively” rings like a poppy-monster truck jam. Deerhoof wants to show you that they can literally do anything they want, swinging between hardcore rock anthem and lush pop song, ending out the last minute in a sexy sway.
Much of The Magic channels glam-punk and 80s arena rock, and it’s truly amazing when heard through the spastic, experimental lens of Deerhoof. It all makes sense when one takes into consideration Saunier’s account, saying the music on The Magic was lurking in the shadows of “what we liked when we were kids – when music was magic – before you knew about the industry and before there were rules. Sometimes hair metal is the right choice.” Saunier also gives a confident vocal performance on “Plastic Thrills,” hitting notes as clear and high as Diane Coffee. Another electrified ride, one could imagine hearing “Plastic Thrills” in the background of a Capri Sun commercial, assuming the gentle Ad execs at Capri Sun have excellent music taste.
“Nurse Me” ends the album in the way it began – fast, weird and confident – optimistic and staggered with a dash of cowbell. Matsuzaki chants “Nurse me!” in the wide eyed and off putting way that she does without coming off too campy or kitschy. Deerhoof has reached middle age as a band, but they play like raucous teens and curate sound like seasoned vets – enjoy them while they’re around, because acts like Deerhoof are few and fantastically far between.