Deerhoof vs. Evil: a Technicolor listening experience on pink vinyl

January 21, 2011

The new Deerhoof album, Deerhoof vs. Evil, does not come out until next week (Jan. 25), but I feel I need to let everyone know about it now before the limited edition pink vinyl version sells out. As provided by Polyvinyl Records’ PR guy, Andy Desantis, the image above certainly captures a nice looking slab of wax.

The label limited the pink vinyl run to 2,000 copies, and already, during pre-orders, the album has practically sold out. On Wednesday afternoon, Desantis informed me only 75 remained. Needless to say, my order is in. You can get it by clicking here.

As for the music, I at first felt hesitant to even like this album. Polyvinyl allowed me a preview of the entire album back in January on mp3. Upon first listen, the music was the usual chaos I had always associated with Deerhoof. The band, which hails from San Francisco, has left me cold since I have been giving them a chance after I heard David Bowie endorsed them back in back in 2007, when he personally booked them for the High Line Festival in NYC. I downloaded a couple of songs back then, listened to them a few of times and filed them away into the forgettable folder. But once in a while I would try them on again. I knew there was something of substance beneath the chaos of the wildly twisting, turning, folding and flip-flopping song constructs.

Now, with the release of their debut on Polyvinyl after more than 10 years on Kill Rock Stars, I had to seriously dig into Deerhoof’s music. I will admit, for the first five or so listens, I did not care for the repeat listens. It felt like eating my broccoli. Even though I knew it was good for me, I hated the taste. But then things started popping out for me… certain hooks and melodies that would surface and peek above the seeming chaos of the song constructs.

It helps that Deerhoof has grown up a lot since their debut in 1997. The band’s early albums were particularly noisy affairs with ear-splitting feedback dominating most songs. A young Japanese woman by the name of Satomi Matsuzaki more often than not takes lead vocal duties, which could not help my own tendencies to compare Deerhoof with Melt Banana, a Tokyo-based Japanese group more interesting to watch on stage than hear on record.

Deerhoof had some serious prejudices to conquer to gain my praise. They’ve done it. A month later, after repeated listens and, the pushover point, this video for “Super Duper Rescue Heads”…

… I have been won over. The editing of the music video by director Noriko Oishi particularly helped accent the odd shifts in the band’s music, and anyone who regularly reads my reviews should know I do love me some angular attacks to music. It made the song much more tolerable and seemed to provide a how-to-guide in appreciating how Deerhoof puts a song together.

All right, so get ready as I try to deconstruct all the elements of this dense, roughly two-and-a-half-minute, track with the complimentary images from the video. The sparkling, driving keyboard hook that kicks off the song fits with Matsuzaki striding through the bright lights of Tokyo at night.  It all comes to a halt to allow her to sing the lyrics in heavily accented English repeating the simple phrase: “Me… to the rescue” against a stark black background as she mimes/dances to the music with a skittering drum beat and a sparse bass below her voice.  The hook returns via what sounds like a spare sounding thumb piano when Matsuzaki turns to sing “Hello… hello… you lucky so-and-so” as a squiggle of laser light clicks on to accent the change. Then the band breaks is down to make way for the percussive, rhythmic clatter of timbales and cowbells for a couple of seconds, before everyone piles in for the return of the opening hook, layered with guitars and drums, as Matsuzaki coos, “oohhh, ohhh, ohhh” over and over and bright city lights bath and pan over her image. Then the director cuts to a stark image of a Japanese exit sign that flickers with every repetition of “Get away, get away” as a buzzing, deep organ melody and a hushed electro drum machine pulse along. Then a piercing, high-pitched electric guitar line is squeezed out in response.  Matsuzaki appears again over the exit sign, mimicking the image as she sings along with the music. 

That hook that opened the song so brilliantly in the form of the sparkling keyboard with all the instruments piled over it will never appear again in that form for the other half of the  song. It’s cowbells and timbales again grooving along on the luscious chords of a terse organ melody, as we watch TV over Matsuzaki’s shoulder inside an apartment while she cuddles her cat on a couch and then digs into a bag of chips with a soda. When the soda spills on a glass table and more flickering cuts of images including the album art and a simple three note, zipping line of screech from a keyboard and the film burns away. Matsuzaki returns with a stark black background to repeat “You, to the rescue” over the return of the hook this time on the dinky thumb piano as the video cuts between her image dressed in two different outfits. She then sings “Alone, alone. I’ll never be alone” and then the thumb piano melody meanders along for a few seconds unaccompanied as Matsuzaki freezes before another cut to an array of flashing images, including explosions, that bath over her as she returns to mime/dance to the band playing skittering beats and punctuating honks of an organ sprinkled with the twinkle of a keyboard line. Another zipping three-note melody and the song soars off in an echoing, loud but distant guitar line and swelling, clattering percussion only to make an abrupt stop.

If you thought that was dense, imagine the rest of the album, with songs that shift and change schizophrenically from luscious layered hooks that spring along only to devolve to spare bits of dark grooves. An array of instruments and stylistic flourishes rise and sneak away making for a Technicolor listening experience that rewards repeated listens.

Deerhoof vs. Evil is indeed very smart pop-rock with an almost ADD love for squeezing in as many hooks into one record only to move on to the next, damn the cheap gimmick of repetition. Deerhoof could have had so many hit songs if they would have only dwelled a bit more and repeated the hooks, but that’s just too easy and boring.

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
as the video cuts between her image dressed in two different outfits

2 Responses to “Deerhoof vs. Evil: a Technicolor listening experience on pink vinyl”

  1. Ana Says:

    I loove broccoli! So I guess that means I will love Deerhoof too? Or does the positive review mean that you now have grown to love broccoli?

    • indieethos Says:

      I would say if you love the deeper nutritional value and complex, unique flavor of broccoli, then you would appreciate Deerhoof, as they are not the empty calories of soda pop.


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