Bubblegum-pop meets blues-rock meets doom-noise
After three years of studio silence, the wonderfully whimsical experimental noise-pop quartet, Deerhoof, have just released their 16th full-length LP – Future Teenage Cave Artists. Straddling the strange and the cute, thanks to chanteuse Satomi Matsuzaki’s diminutive voice, this group creates a sound at once unclassifiable and stolidly original. With its energetic breaks and divergences, the music is more of a rudimentary compilation of temperamental musical switches. Running at 37 minutes in 11 songs, it’s one of those rare few that makes you wish it was just a little longer. It sort of jolts you into a hypnotic and volatile Candyland.
From the outset, the titular first track lays the field with distorted, sliding resonator guitar wavering as bright synth arpeggios embellish the edges. The guitar sounds really DIY and garage-rock like, giving it a handmade, improv feel – it really tones the music down, makes it more palpable and accessible. Then enters this beatific, feminine voice that juxtaposes the muddiness of the track (and, the rest of the album), but also somehow complements it in a way that’s totally new.
It’s mainly a guitar-centric album, and the playing is phenomenal. It has a bluesy undertone, all wild-styled and erratic, almost cartoony. On tracks like “O Ye Saddle Babes” and “Farewell Symphony,” the guitar centers itself as the principal instrument stridently belting away seismic booms while the peripheral instruments adroitly accentuate its position in the scheme of sound. The guitar is the unequivocal mood-setter and seems to be the vehicle for the narrator, her source of confidence and poise in the face of calamity.
Yet, it definitely isn’t limited to just one instrument. Its complex composition is shown through tracks like “Zazeet” where sounds like helium gas escaping a balloon and frenetic seesawing synth notes reside, where it’s all set to vaguely menacing bass notes – as if you’re being led to an undesirable destination as it rises and rises to a foreboding climax that never pops. Or, in track nine, “Reduced Guilt”, where there’s a constant muffled piano riff that loops sinisterly as metal hinges creak and strings disturbingly cry. Matsuzaki becomes enshrouded by the ambient noise as she broodingly garbles. It almost becomes too much, yet it always stabilizes just at the brink of excessiveness.
“New Orphan Asylum for Deerspirited Children” is probably the most bizarre track on the album. It features a melodic, zany guitar riff that harmonizes with Matsuzaki’s voice as she sings, “how would you hurt my bambis?/ what did my bambis do to you?” as if she’s the sort of maternal protector of some newborn deer, it’s slightly, but amusingly, unsettling. Or, in the final track, “I Call on Thee,” wherein they tone it down by a thousand degrees with just a solitary piano track that sounds analog-recorded in a lonely, capacious and forgotten room.
Overall, Future Teenage Cave Artists has a refracted appeal-like if some old hard-rock band with clear blues influences got sent through a garbage disposal then cherry-dipped at an ice cream shop. It is positively not a flop or fluke, but a promising and precocious mainstay. You just know you’re in the presence of something that is naturally and gracefully relevant, something that will be on the map for quite some time.