In today’s modern world of music, where computers have replaced both studios and instruments, music of the seventies and eighties seems both quaint and alien. Just as radio stations that played popular music of the fifties and sixties in the seventies and eighties were known as “oldies” music, the circle has come around to once popular artists of the seventies and eighties. Time and history has caught up where a modern cover of a song from 20 years ago can only sound dated if done with too much dedication to the original. Enter Sexton Blake, a pseudonym for Josh Hodges, the man who would go on to found Starfucker (sometimes shortened to STRFKR for politeness’ sake), an odd hybrid of psychedelic rock and new wave that knows how to write a song around a dance beat.

Ahead of the band’s fourth album, Starfucker’s label, the Champaign, IL-based Polyvinyl Records, has just reissued a limited edition vinyl run of Hodges’ second, and most popular, Sexton Blake album. Plays the Hits!covers mid-seventies hits as old and respectable as ELO’s “Evil Woman” and Elton John’s “Daniel” into late eighties horror shows like Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush” and Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True.” Though Hodges shows respect to the essence of the music (like the transitional hook into the chorus of Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”), he incorporates a sonic palette that would become characteristic of Starfucker’s sound. The songs often include the luscious, slurry strum of a processed electric guitar and the soft but terse electro beat of a drum machine.

Released this past Tuesday on 180-gram, gold-colored double vinyl (see picture above) and limited to 1000 copies, this reissuing of Plays the Hits! offers an auspicious re-examination of Starfucker’s origin. The band’s self-titled debut established the Portland, Oregon-based outfit as a catchy, hip indie-pop outfit that gained nationwide popularity after its music’s inclusion in corporate television commercials for businesses like Target and IBM. But Starfucker’s staying power lies in Hodge’s playful but deep lyrical content. Often incorporating samples from the lectures of British philosopher Alan Watts, Hodges’ lyrics have an existential resonance as he often explores themes of life and death.

My conversation with various members of the band last year led to a popular profile on this blog spread across two parts (Exclusive interview with Starfucker [Part 1 of 2]: Philosophy and rock ‘n’ roll). Even in that expansive feature piece I was unable to cover everything we talked about, and that included Starfucker’s formative years as Sexton Blake. The setting was sometime just before midnight, in an alley behind an Orlando, Florida bar called the BackBooth. Starfucker had finished its set (read my re-cap of that night’s show) and everyone had more than a few beers in them.

In 2007, just before he recorded Plays the Hits!, Hodges was trying to survive in New York City as an underground parking valet while recording music. He said, though those years were tough he had not regrets. “It was amazing,” Hodges remembers of his time in the Big Apple. “It was the only thing I wanted to do. There’s nothing else I could have done with my life then. I went there to fuckin’ struggle and I did, but it was good.”

He arrived in New York from a small town in Michigan, around 2004. “There’s nothing going on,” he recalls of the small town he left. “We were in the middle of nowhere.” While in New York, Hodges produced and recorded his own solo record as Sexton Blake called Explosive Motion Picture Score. “It’s not that good,” he admits of the album.

It seemed someone liked it enough to not only release it, but start a whole indie label by releasing it. Expunged Records remains active to this day. Explosive Motion Picture Score marked Hodges’ debut as Sexton Blake. Though the album went nowhere, the label’s founder, Anthony McNamer, had an idea to get Hodges back into the studio. “I was working at a parking lot downtown,” recalls Hodges, “and he was like, ‘Hey, man, what if I give you like a thousand bucks to record all these eighties songs that I like,’ and I was like, ‘Well, that’s better than taking people’s money to park their car or whatever.’”

He says McNamer gave him a long list of songs to cover, and he picked and chose what he wanted to re-envision. As a 32-year-old now, Hodges admits the music predates his cognizance as an aspiring musician. “I didn’t grow up on that stuff … but kind of. My mom kind of used to work out to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,’” he says referring to a song Starfucker would cover on its second album, Jupiter.

In retrospect, Hodges actually holds a pretty harsh view on the original versions of the songs he covered for Plays the Hits!. “All those songs kind of suck, in my opinion,” he says, “like the music does, and so I’m trying to make something listenable out of it.” But maybe it’s the beer talking. He says he has a soft spot for Supertramp’s “the Logical Song,” admitting: “That’s actually my favorite song on the album. I mean the lyrics are amazing. It’s a really great song, but the way that they perform it is just kind of cheesy.” For its version on Plays the Hits!, Hodges removes all the quirks of the song like the song’s pulsing organ, castanets, hand claps, flourishes of bombastic electric guitar and, of course, the sax solo. Instead, he slows the tempo down and plays the melody on a solitary acoustic guitar in a somber, almost tired voice, which helps to highlight the lyrics. There is one break in the song to allow for a quiet, sparse piano solo, which is soon joined by the acoustic guitar for a minimalist union of density for the chorus before the song comes to sudden flourish and end.

But as he strips back “the Logical Song,” he knows where to fill in the gaps in other songs. Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush” and the Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town” are dense affairs that beef up the airy, dinky synth-based quality of the original pop songs. “Rush Rush” starts with the persistent plucking of a single note on a guitar and ends in a wash of screaming cymbals. “Life in a Northern Town” dives deeper into noise. He almost imperceptibly mumbles its famous jubilant chorus of “Ah hey ma ma ma/Ah hey ma ma ma hey,” and coats it with a layered, chaotic guitar solo mostly composed of feedback that still grooves along inventively, recalling middle-period Yo La Tengo. It offers a brilliant, haunting moment rarely even heard in later Starfucker music.

Sexton Blake would carry on as a live act in the Portland area for several performances, as Expunged Records was based there. He arrived with a musician friend of a friend who would later continue working with Hodges in Starfucker: keyboardist Ryan Biornstad. What began as a visit to support Sexton Blake’s releases on the label with live shows turned into something more permanent, and they just decided to stay there. “We were like, let’s stay in Portland and put a band together,” Hodges said. “Portland is a really good place to be a new band because it’s real easy to get written up. Even if you suck, you can get written up in the local media.”

As Hodges gradually came up with new tunes, the band, which also featured Tom Homolya on bass and Tim Edgar on drums (according to Wikipedia), morphed into something else. Biornstad, who was part of Starfucker during this interview*, says, “It all just progressed naturally on its own. It just grew into its own thing, and it just wasn’t happening anymore, so Sexton Blake died. We played like 14 last shows ever.”

Hodges laughs. “Yeah, we dragged it out for a while.” The band would never exist beyond a string of shows in the Northwestern part of the United States. Though Sexton Blake seems a footnote in the evolving legacy of Starfucker, it did release a noteworthy album in Plays the Hits!. It’s a welcome release finally on vinyl LP by Polyvinyl Records.

Finally, seems the next generation is already covering Starfucker. Here’s The School of Rock performing “Florida:”

Hans Morgenstern

*Biornstad would depart the band after the tour where I met him as part of Starfucker. He reportedly announced plans for a solo record, but that has yet to materialize. He also continues to be a wanted man by Austin City Police. It all stems from an incident well-documented in the second part of my Starfucker story (Indie Ethos exclusive [Part 2 of 2]: From rough start to triumphant tour, Starfucker head home). A recent email to Austin’s community court revealed Biornstad has an active Failure to Appear Warrant after he allegedly skipped his court date in May of 2011.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

The word “indie” is so abused by the mainstream media nowadays. But in the early part of the nineties, this term came into the music lexicon as a reference to bands or fans of music who released music, oftentimes home recordings, on their own labels, independent of major label support or distribution with little interest in becoming celebrities or getting rich. Those bands thrived on non-commercial college radio thanks to program directors like yours truly who were actual undergrad students searching for something new in music, no matter the label. From that pure process of releasing music to the public, a particular sound emerged, as rough-edged as punk but as catchy as pop. Bands like Yo La Tengo, Sebadoh, Superchunk and others loved rock ‘n’ roll, and they were not ashamed to show it.

Most recently, the UK band Yuck garnered a lot of hype for being kids inspired by nineties indie rock though too young to have lived it. Despite the band’s recently released self-titled debut’s scarily close survey of the variety of sounds of nineties indie music— from the slow to the punk— it still lacks some of the verve of the real deal and loses its sheen fast (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the LP on Amazon). On the other hand, Love of Everything’s up-coming 4-track EP, “Sooner I Wish” is a home-recorded little masterpiece that stays focused in its minimalism while maintaining a passion for musical expression. It recalls the bouncy spirit of nineties indie rock while tackling the morose subject of honest lost love, as singer/guitarist Bobby Burg tangles with the ups and downs of his real marriage that recently ended in divorce, according to the press materials accompanying this release by Polyvinyl Records.

The solo project of Burg (Joan of Arc and Make Believe), Love of Everything has released seven albums to date. This amazingly tight but unceasingly giving 7-inch will officially make it out to the public on Aug. 2, but click on its title above to pre-order it if you want one of only 300 manufactured on white vinyl and an instant download of the entire EP. Polyvinyl is offering a free mp3 of the opening song, “Three Way Answers”: download or stream it here. On this opener, Burg concocts an impressive, repetitive hook by just traveling up and down his guitar neck as Matt Holland (Air Waves, Vacations) smacks out a steady drum beat while a bass plods along on a similar rhythm (possibly Burg tracked over). Burg comes on with his cutesy, nasal voice that brings to mind Mac McCaughan of Superchunk*, and the minimal musical backdrop provides him with a canvas to throw his emphasis where he likes. The music is perpetual and entrancing. It’s so hypnotic in its self-indulgence that I would have not minded it lasting five more minutes, but Burg knows the value of a tease at a run time of 1:37.

The second track, “Sooner I Wish,” opens with some seemingly random high-pitched plucks of the guitar that offers a misleading tone to the song that ultimately takes shape. It actually has a similar repetitious manner as “Three Way Answers” but on a faster tempo. Fuzzy reverb creates an audio hallucinatory effect of more than one guitar bashing out the hook, and the intro that opened the track seems to haunt the rest of the song in the background, barely there, as if it were an echo from a previous time. Creepy.

“Here Come the Warm Regrets” follows with a more ominous feel. The only instrumental on the 7-inch is propelled by a sinister guitar line that sounds like the beginning of a Sonic Youth song that never goes beyond its opening.  To tease you, an elastic guitar solo appears from the corner to bend out whiny, steady guitar notes. When the guitar seems to tire, a melodica appears to take over the same series of notes before the song trickles to a halt. Going back further than the nineties aesthetic that influences this 7-inch, anyone who knows Brian Eno’s oeuvre will pick out not only the titular allusion of “Here Come the Warm Regrets” to Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets” but also the fuzzed out, musical references to the unrelenting distorted guitars that propelled the 1973 song, which closed out Eno’s debut album of the same name. This is the sort of hefty substance behind “Sooner I Wish” that makes it stand up beyond its reference to nineties indie rock. It reaches back to the art rock that came before it, even if only in sly reference.

The 7-inch closes with “Want,” which adds on layers of hooks. A ringing guitar part propels the song as a lushly strummed hook is coated over it. Never have I heard such a flagrant abuse of the loop pedal with such simple, indulgent results and loved it as much as this little record. All the tracks on this 7-inch seem constructed on hooks alone and never let go of their grooves. There’s an over-the-top indulgence that gives every track a delightful, mesmerizing quality.

As a whole, “Sooner I Wish” has a lo-fi, fuzzy quality throughout, permeated with a reverb seemingly created from the levels recorded too high. As is the case with many of the great lo-fi recordings that defined the nineties, a subtle psycho-acoustic effect emerges that invites interpretation from the listener. Maybe some listeners will notice phantom melodies that accompany the music, recalling some of the best creators of lo-fi music working on low-grade recording equipment like Guided By Voices, early Dinosaur Jr. and Smog.

In the end, Burg never gives up on what I liked best about the lo-fi rock of the early to mid-nineties: this love of catchy, perpetual electric guitar lines that never stop or even slow down to take a breath. Love of Everything brings it to the edge and takes a flying leap with fuzzy guitars blaring.

Hans Morgenstern

*In the nineties, McCaughan founded Merge Records, which recently made rock history as the first indie label to earn a Grammy with Arcade Fire’s latest, the Suburbs. Arcade Fire has been on the label since thier first album brought them word-of-mouth buzz by many popular bands and musicians, including David Bowie, back in 2004.

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Continuing on from my last post regarding Portland’s Starfucker, I would be remiss not to discuss the start of the band’s tour, when much drama unfolded after police placed one of its members behind bars. As the end of the longest tour of its career looms (purchase tickets through this link or see the remaining dates at the end of this post), the start of Starfucker’s road trip across the US, did not come without eventful hiccups.

In recent days, the band has posted playful images and videos from the road on their Facebook page. Sure, this indie rock band with origins in space rock and a danceable beat seems to be doing all right. But when I met the quintet in Orlando, Florida, back on March 26, when their tour had barely begun, some members of Starfucker sure could not wait to get back to their hometown of Portland, Oregon. If any one member of the group had a right to feel melancholy, it was Ryan Biornstad (guitar, keyboard, vocals, turntables). The clock had just passed midnight, and he was celebrating his 31st birthday away from his family. He also still seemed haunted by his arrest in Austin, Texas during the SXSW music festival.

Following their debut performance in Orlando, He and the other members of Starfucker stood around in an open-air alleyway in back of several downtown bars, as party music fought for sound wave space in the background. On this warm night that served as a prelude to the many hot days and nights Florida often experiences approaching the state’s seven-month-long summer, Josh Hodges, the main songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind Starfucker, noted the weather the band was missing out on in Portland. “I miss it, but I’m really happy to be here right now,” he said. “It’s really weird for me. It’s warm [here], but it’s probably 40 degrees and raining in Portland right now.”

Biornstad, his face still smudged with lipstick and bright rouge from his stage appearance, also admitted he was missing Portland. “Very much. I broke down crying last night,” he confessed.

Standing next to him, Hodges could not help but laugh. “Really?” he asked.

“I was,” said Biornstad with sincerity, though he is all smiles and energy, still buzzed from the band’s current conquest of the Orlando crowd … and maybe some beer. “It’s hard being away from them,” Biornstad added about his children and fiancée.

“It’s the most pretty family you have ever seen,” commented Hodges. “Like, all of them, it’s crazy, and they’re good. They’re a good family.”

Though many shows on Starfucker’s tour at that point had so far sold out, none of the band’s three stops in Florida did. However, tonight’s show at the BackBooth gave them a boost of optimism (read a re-cap of the night’s show here). The venue was still packed with a crowd who gave back as much energy as Starfucker threw at them. Toward the end of Starfucker’s set, Biornstad tested the audience’s affection by leaning off the stage to be pushed back up by outstretched arms. At one point, he dove on top of them to crowd surf. See the video captured by below showing Biornstad stage diving:

“Tonight was fun,” Hodges said.

“It was great, yeah,” added Biornstad.

“Orlando kind of surprised us all, I think,” Hodges continued. “We played in Tampa last night. It was awful, but it was also kind of interesting,” he added politely. When asked to explain “interesting,” he admitted:  “It was just like pretty much a cover band kind of scene.”

Orlando marked the deepest south the band had toured in its career,  and after starting off with four sold-out shows in California, the tour took a turn south in another sense, fraught with difficulties that probably hit its lowest point when police arrested Biornstad in Austin, Texas right before Starfucker’s first night of showcases at the SXSW music festival.

Via Twitter, , the band broke the news to followers: “Ryan just got arrested… WTF FUCK THE POLICE… Our show at 6 is canceled…

Most likely, Shawn Glassford (bass, keyboards, drums) sent that Tweet out. He said he was with Ryan unloading the band’s van for a show when an Austin Police officer approached them. “I was the main witness, actually,” Glassford said. “It was the most bizarre cop interaction I have ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of them, and that was just like, what the fuck is happening? This just makes no sense.”

Biornstad must have that evening burned hard in his consciousness. He offered a breathless replay of the night: “We were unloading the van, Shawn and I, and this cop came up and said I had to get off the street, and I told him I was unloading the van for a show, and he still insisted I had to get off the street. Shawn handed me some equipment, and I was like, ‘I have to get off the street, fine, but I have some equipment to unload,’ and he blocked the way for me to get off the street, and then he decided he was going to write me a ticket. We go to the sidewalk, I hand him my ID, and I’m like, ‘Fine, give me a ticket,’ and this other psycho cop ran up on me, and he’s like, ‘You’re under arrest!’ and he turned me around, and he pushed me up against the wall, and he put me in handcuffs, and they put me in jail.”

City of Austin Police Corporal Anthony Hipolito, a spokesperson for the department, responded via email to several questions. “[Biornstad] was standing in a lane of traffic in the 700 block E 7th St.,” he explained. “He was not cooperative with police, and did not comply with anything they were asking.”

Hipolito said police booked him on two charges: “pedestrian on the roadway and resisting arrest.”

Biornstad called the first charge “retarded” and the second “bullshit.” He said, “I did not resist arrest. They never told me I was under arrest. They never read me my rights… They didn’t say anything. They ran up on me and put me in jail. If they had said, ‘You’re under arrest, put your hands behind your back,’ I would have done so. They didn’t say anything of the sort. They just turned me around, fuckin’ cuffed me and put me in the car.”

When asked whether the arresting officer read Biornstad his Miranda rights,  Hipolito stated, “I do not have any evidence of his rights being read.  You will have to get with the Judge who set his bail.”

After a couple of emails were sent to Austin’s Municipal Court, I was redirected to Downtown Austin Community Court. Chief Prosecutor Bianca Bentzin responded by email to say she will examine the court file to see what information the APD have provided on the incident as far as whether Biornstad’s Miranda Rights were read to him during his arrest. She stated she will have a response within a week. The spokesperson for the APD did note, however, that the confrontation was non-violent. “No one was injured,” Hipolito stated.

Finally, one concertgoer posted an account by a bouncer on YouTube after he noticed the signs outside the venue declaring: “Starfucker has had to cancel. Sorry. Fuck the police”:

Starfucker would not perform its scheduled shows for that night. “We missed two because of it,” Glassford noted.

“I was in jail for 10 hours in prison stripes,” Biornstad said, adding that he found some way to wile away the hours behind bars. “I worked out a little bit … I was in jail, fuck it. I did some push-ups, did some sit-ups, slept a little bit, and then they let me out at 4 in the morning.”

The band, in the meantime, had appeared at their scheduled venues to watch other groups perform and do— what else— some networking. “These guys represented,” Biornstad noted. “They went to the shows we were supposed to play at, and fuckin’ got everybody hyped up, and they met some people, and they met a lawyer that got me out of jail because everybody knew it was bullshit.”

Biornstad said he plans to fight the charges. To cover his legal bills, Starfuckers’ label, Polyvinyl Records, is helping raise funds with sales of an exclusive T-shirt.

With Biornstad out of jail, Starfucker went on to play two shows at SXSW. Here’s the band at one of those gigs playing “Rawnald Gregory Erickson The Second” (which happens to be the song featured on the Target ad mentioned in Part 1 of this piece):

Though Biornstad’s jail stint proved the band’s greatest challenge, the omen of bad things to come first crept up on Starfucker as the band headed out of California. On March 12, the band posted this message on their Facebook page:

OMFG our trailer just fell off the van. Holy Fucking Shit that was scary… Thankfully we had emergency chains, or else we would have just either lost all our gear or killed someone… Whoa! Crazy shit…

March 12 at 10:10pm via iPhone

To top it off, on their way out of Austin, the band suffered a second problem with their transportation and had to get the van towed to its next gig. “All 6 of us in a tow truck with our van and trailer getting pulled behind!!! Crazy shit right now… Houston, here we come!!!” read the Facebook update posted on their way to Houston on March 20, Sunday night, at 10:54 p.m.

But since then, things seem positive from there on out: “Thanks to everyone in Houston last night! We’re so happy we made it (even if it was via tow truck) … Hopefully our curse is lifted…” read the band’s post on Facebook, the day after the show.

Soon after, someone in Starfucker would note the new album’s appearance on the CMJ Charts at number 11 thanks to college radio airplay. The last bit of exposure gained for Starfucker was when their name appeared on the latest creation by gourmet coffee company Intelligentsia. You can buy a 16 oz. bag of the STRFKR blend via Polyvinyl’s website.

The band is now very close to a triumphant return home for a series of intimate shows in their hometown of Portland. All of the group’s members hail from the Northwestern city, which has its own unique metropolitan quirks. During the interview, I had to ask the members of Starfucker what they thought of the IFC-produced sketch comedy Portlandia, a show that parodies the lifestyle of those living in Portland. It features comedian Fred Armisen, most famous for his work on Saturday Night Live, and Carrie Brownstein, probably best known as a founding member of nineties riot grrrl group Sleater-Kinney. She is now an active member of Wild Flag, a new band based in Portland that has been around for just under a year. As Wild Flag is part of the same music scene as Starfucker, the members of Starfucker know her particularly well. “Ryan and I have played foosball with Carrie,” Hodges said.

“Yeah, I know Carrie pretty well,” added Biornstad. “She’s been living in Portland for 10 years.”

Biornstad and Hodges agree that “Portlandia” has its witty moments, and, they said, it even paints a pretty accurate picture of life in Portland, but when it comes to the Armisen-lead music video that declares “the dream of the nineties is alive in Portland,” the pair beg to differ.

“I feel like Seattle is stuck in the nineties,” Biornstad said. “Portland is very much more forward-thinking than the nineties, I think. But I can see some value into their humor for sure. Carrie is awesome. Fred’s awesome. I hung out with him for a little too. He’s rad. He’s a really nice, kind of shy guy.”

Asked if the band would ever entertain an appearance on the show, Biornstad said, “I’ve been talking to Carrie about it, and I think, at some point, what I’d like to do is kind of like a spoof on the Portland music, hipster scene and make fun of ourselves, make fun of Starfucker a little bit.”

Biornstad better watch what he says about Seattle, though, as the band stops there for a few days before their finale in Portland. Here are Starfucker’s last up-coming tour dates:

04/22/11     Vancouver, Canada @ Biltmore Cabaret
04/23/11     Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project
04/26/11     Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile Cafe
04/28/11     Portland, OR @ Holocene
04/29/11     Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
04/30/11     Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios

Read more about Starfucker in Part 1 of this profile piece.
Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
Ryan just got arrested… WTF FUCK THE POLICE… Our show at 6 is canceled…

At the time of publication of this post, Starfucker have only about a week left in its nearly two-month-long US tour (purchase tickets through this link or scroll to the bottom of this post to see the remaining dates). In recent days, Starfucker has posted news of one sold out date after another (they are going on 19, at this point), plus details about a growing overseas tour and additions to giant music festivals on their popular Facebook page.

For a band with a name too naughty for radio and most commercial publications, this group with neo-psychedelic space rock leanings and a taste for dance music, has done all right for itself. Though the band still might be sitting in the shadows of a pair of groups they are often compared with: MGMT (read my lengthy review of MGMT’s last album) and Passion Pit, they seem to be signaling their own breakthrough without major TV appearances (pesky dirty name).

During the early part of their tour, while visiting Orlando, Florida, all five band members indulged in a little chat about their music and their experience so far. The gang from Portland, Oregon talked about specifics in their lyrics to their genre stylings to how this tour had so far treated them.

When I met them after a performance at the BackBooth (read my re-cap of that night’s show), much drama had already unfolded after one of the members’ arrest at SXSW, among other things, details of which I shall save for part 2 of this story. But, first thing is first, what musical stylings define Starfucker?

“We’re apparently following-in-the-footsteps-of-Passion-Pit-vein,” said Josh Hodges, the band’s songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist, with a laugh. “Even though we’ve been around longer than them.”

Hodges, wearing horn-rimmed glasses from out of the fifties, and the other four members of Starfucker stood around in an open-air alleyway that served as a cross section of back doors to several bars in Downtown Orlando, as music like Jay Sean’s “Down” blared out of a nearby club.

“Well, people have said it’s ‘future pop,’” said bassist Shawn Glassford, and they all laughed.

As for the MGMT reference,  Ryan Biornstad (guitar, keyboard, vocals, turntables) said, “We didn’t follow after MGMT cause we were around at the same time. They blew up before we did. We’ve never blown up; that’s the thing.”

The group, which also includes Keil Corcoran on drums and guitarist Ian Luxton, does show a sense of frustration with it all. Though they stare into the dark abyss of possibilities with a smile and a laugh, they remain weighted by a name that seems an obstacle to further success. During research on the band, I learned Hodges chose the name Starfucker to purify inclinations to create music chasing after notoriety with other projects that never came close to the popular fruition Starfucker has so far achieved. His motivations for creating Starfucker came from a pure place of art, as no one could market a band named Starfucker in the puritanical US, he had no pressure to create music aiming for popularity.

The problem was the music that resulted was so catchy it even made it to mainstream TV via commercials for products like Target and IBM. “It was totally luck,” Hodges said about his music’s appearance in some popular TV ads. “The ad agency that made the Target commercial is in Portland, and then, Badman [Records], the label who put out the first album, somehow organized the ‘Holly’ song being in the IBM commercial, so I had nothing to do with it.”

The songs featured were pulled from the band’s 2008 self-titled debut, recently reissued on vinyl (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on IBM used the mid-tempo and wistful track “Holly” while, according to Hodges, a friend working at the advertising agency hired by Target, suggested the bouncy “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” for its ad.

The exposure in television not only saw the band earning royalties from airplay that never needed to identify the band by name, it also upgraded its exposure, and Starfucker soon moved on to a larger indie label, leaving Badman for Polyvinyl Records. At the end of March, Polyvinyl pressed the band’s second album, Reptilians (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on, which the band is currently supporting with this tour.

With Reptilians, Starfucker has certainly shown it has grown since its first album and an intermediate 8-song mini-album in 2009, entitled Jupiter (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the album on “Our previous album was very electro poppy, kind of like light and fun,” noted Biornstad, “and the truth is, it’s like been a few years since our first album, and we’re at a point now where we’re getting older and touring a lot, and we’re staying true to what we feel is our sound, and it’s growing, and it’s evolving, and we’re not interested in making an album that’s just like the first one. We’re making it as an evolution.”

With the first album, Starfucker gazed up at the heavens and offered a grounded, but dreamy, view from below. But with this recent release, the band sounds like it has floated up to exist among the stars. Take the back-to-back moment of “Bury Us Alive” and “Mystery Cloud.” “Bury Us” 0pens with a twinkling electronic sample and zipping sounds that could have easily been lifted from a cheesy science fiction flick. On the chorus, Hodges sings in hushed, breathy tones as the song bursts with harmonizing electronics that buzz and screech only to melt away to the twinkles that opened the song. As the song fades away with the noises tightening around each other and drifting apart, the pace picks up with “Mystery Cloud.” With Hodges’ singing mixed even lower, decorated with echoing effects, he references desires to be a spaceman, as the drums pummel along and the synthesizers layer up from whining peels of noise to Moog-like burbles.

According to Polyvinyl’s bio on the band, Hodges wrote almost all of Reptilians by himself, just as he did the two earlier releases by Starfucker (save for the cover songs on Jupiter, of course). Whereas Hodges, Biornstad and Glassford all contributed drum work on the first album, Corcoran, who joined the band in 2008, took that primary duty in the studio for Jupiter and Reptilians. Luxton only recently joined the band as an extra guitarist for the band’s current tour, but has yet to record with the band, which is now focused on the touring and promotion cycle, which will soon see them on stages overseas in Europe, Canada and Mexico.

Polyvinyl made an exclusive variant of the album on clear vinyl limited to only 700, which sold out very soon after its release, at the end of March. The label is currently offering “Bury Us Alive” as a free download, to entice potential buyers. Polyvinyl already offered the band’s first single totally free for a limited time, the spacey “Julius,” reviewed in this blog last year, after it was released as a 7-inch single (The song is currently in the works of getting the music video treatment, according to Glassford).

Though I go into the single’s merits in depth in that aforementioned posting from October 2010 (the first and so far only 7-inch I felt inclined to review on this blog), here was my chance to settle a doubt I had about the lyric, as the new album features no lyrics on the jacket or inner sleeve. As a matter of fact, the LP record includes a poster of the album art formatted to look like a blank coloring book page, offering some insight into the band’s aesthetic sensibility inviting interpretations from fans. “It’s a mystery,” said Biornstad with a sly smile. “Mystery’s important.”

On “Julius,” Hodges’ voice is so affected by reverb, it makes it hard to tell if he sang, “Picture your body/Hearing your voice/Fall into your eyes” and not “Fall into your arms,” as it might have more rationally sounded to many fans. “That’s what a lot of people think it is. It’s ‘Fall into your eyes,'” said Hodges. “I actually wrote the lyrics to that song on our Facebook page because people kept getting it wrong.”

Hodges’ assurance that the lyric is indeed “Fall into your eyes,” is more than an artistic validation but also validates the philosophy that informs the album. In my review of the single, the lyric brought to mind the image of a lover conjured up by the mind’s eye that in turn sucks the dreamer back in, in an ever evolving loop. Sure, it makes for a surreal— and maybe unreal— image, but it also comes from a metaphysical place. It’s an interpretation that not only compliments the layers of noise and melody that wrestle with each other over the course of the song but also the album’s theme. Hodges offers his inspiration behind the track: “It’s about my grandfather waiting to die after my grandmother died,” he said. “He’s still around. There’s like all these old pictures of them at their wedding and stuff at their house. That’s the whole thing about looking at a picture.”

As an album obsessed with death, following Hodge’s grandmother’s passing, Reptilians is incredibly light for an album exploring such dark subject matter, but that maybe because Hodges has a clear handle of the roll death plays in life. Cementing the theme beyond Hodges’ sometimes obtuse and surreal lyrics, are the words of British philosopherAlan Watts. His lectures are excerpted at various moments within several songs. In the particular choices Hodges made for this album, Watts’ statements describe death as an integral part of life.  “Mystery Cloud” ends  as the song unwinds from a noisy clash of synths to a throbbing burble with Watts talking about that entwined cycle of life and death:

Everybody should do in their lifetime, sometime, two things. One is to consider death. To observe skulls and skeletons and to wonder what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up— never. That is a most gloomy thing for contemplation. It’s like manure. Just as manure fertilizes the plants and so on, so the contemplation of death and the acceptance of death is very highly generative of creating life. You’ll get wonderful things out of that.

“We all just love him,” said Hodges about Watts. “For me just Eastern, and specifically Buddhist, philosophy is just very much influenced and changed my life, and Alan Watts is one of the most colorful and articulate speakers on the subject and one of the first people to bring it to the West, and in a cool way. He has such a playful way of talking about that stuff.”

Hodges said the band often listens to Watts’ lectures on the road and credits Bionstad for bringing Watts into his life. “It’s really inspiring,” Biornstad added. “Plus, I would say the way Eastern culture’s evolved in western culture is a lot of people have become extremely dogmatic about it, but I think Alan Watts is amazing because I think he was the forefather of bringing Eastern philosophy into the West, but he didn’t try to make it dogmatic … He got to the core of it, and he was like, you know what? You can apply this to any part of your life.”

Watts, who died in 1973, could almost be considered the band’s phantom member. His voice not only appears in several songs on Reptilians, he has appeared on all of Starfucker’s prior albums. The band’s debut album opens with “Florida,” a song Hodges insisted has nothing to do with the US state his band was visiting during this interview (“It doesn’t have anything to do with the state. It’s just a nice word”). Appropriate to the conversation about this seemingly randomly titled song is what Watts says at the end of the track:

This world is a great wiggle-effect. The clouds are wiggling. The waters are wiggling. The clouds are wiggling, bouncing. People— but people are always trying to straighten things out. You see, we live in a rectangular box, all the time; everything is straightened out. Wherever you look around in nature you find things often straightened out. They’re always trying to put things in boxes. Those boxes are classified. Words are made from some boxes. But the real world is wiggly. Now when you have a wiggle like a cloud, how much wiggle is a wiggle? Well, you have to draw the line somewhere, so people come to sorts of agreements about how much of a wiggle is a wiggle; that is to say a “thing.” One wiggle. Always reduce one wiggle to sub wiggles, or see it as a subordinate wiggle of a bigger wiggle, but there’s no fixed rule about it.

But do not confuse Starfucker as taking itself too seriously. The band does dress in drag upon occasion, after all. Also, Hodges’ lyrics do seem to start from very concrete sources of inspirations. When asked to explain “German Love,” to a part German, such as myself, he comes clean. “There was this girl that I was obsessed with, and that’s just how it goes,” Hodges said, at first.

“I’ll tell you the real story,” offered Biornstad, lighting up at the opportunity. “This is what really happened: Josh was super into this girl, and she was German. She was living in the United States, and he started dating her, and they were just hanging out for a couple of weeks, and he was really into her, and she was kind of not… She was into him at first, but then, with the touring and all that stuff, she kind of started getting some distance, so he got a little insecure, a little bit obsessed— sorry, no offense,” he added, looking over to Hodges.

“No, it’s OK,” Hodges accepted.

“But he got a little bit obsessed … She kinda didn’t want to be hanging out with him anymore, and so anyway, it was kind of like a Say Anything moment when he was going to her house late at night and playing songs for her, and he wrote ‘German Love,’ and he played it in the speakers for her and bringing her flowers and stuff, and she didn’t want anything to have to do with it, and he actually ended up with a restraining order against himself for this woman.”

Asked whether there was truth to this story, including the restraining order, Hodges admitted, “Yeah, actually I’m not supposed to be telling anybody about this, but we’re both kind of drunk, I guess,” Hodges added, excusing himself and Biornstad.

“Long story short, everything worked out fine,” Biornstad summed up.

“It’s fine, we’re friends kind of,” Hodges said of this German girl.

“She was a little bit sensitive to the whole thing,” added Biornstad. “What he was doing was actually kind of romantic, and she was just not getting it.”

“She was definitely not feeling it,” added Hodges, “but, you know what? There’s like so many different girls out there.”

Well, at least Hodges never went to jail over it. However, under very different circumstances, Biornstad did wind up behind bars, on this very tour. He and the arresting police department offer their stories in the second part of this artist profile. Update: Here is a third post on the pre-Starfucker, Sexton Blake years: Starfucker frontman recalls early years as Sexton Blake (an Indie Ethos exclusive)

In the meantime, here are the remaining dates on Starfucker’s current US tour:

04/19/11     Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
04/19/11     Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
04/20/11     Boise, ID @ Neurolux
04/22/11     Vancouver, Canada @ Biltmore Cabaret
04/23/11     Seattle, WA @ The Vera Project
04/26/11     Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile Cafe
04/28/11     Portland, OR @ Holocene
04/29/11     Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
04/30/11     Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

When Casiokids’ frontman Ketil Kinden Endresen approaches, it feels as if David Bowie walked off the silver screen from the Man Who Fell to Earth. The musician from Bergen, Norway has the tall, slender alien features and wears a slim, pale brown suit that only makes his white skin all the more pallid. Casiokids are new to Florida, and— for now— the furthest south they have travelled is Orlando. They are indeed strangers in a strange land.

Endresen expresses his curiosity for the City of Celebration and how Disney-like it might be. But the last sort of cultural experience he needs is an exploration of suburban artifice and the banal. This is the man who, three years ago, spent a month in Lagos, Nigeria with bandmate Geir Svensson exploring the legacy of Fela Kuti in the country’s current musicians.

Fela, who is often celebrated for bringing African music to London in the early sixties and beyond, is a passion for Endresen and other members of Casiokids. Besides their work with Casio keyboards, the band employees African rhythms. “I really like Afrobeat,” says Endresen, “Fela Kuti, and Ghanaian Highlife, like E.T. Mensah. I really like King Sunny Adé, Amadou & Mariam and some South African music like Kwela music from the sixties and seventies.”

Here’s a tune from Mensah whose rhythm would fit right into a Casiokids song:

Though African rhythms certainly serve as a foundation for Casiokids’ sound (you can download two free tracks from their latest release at the band’s website on Polyvinyl Records), a love of retro keyboards like those manufactured by Casio in the early eighties add the icing on the cake. “I’ve always said that the Casio keyboard is, in a way, the perfect instrument ever made,” Endresen says, “because you have all the different rhythms and all the different instruments there and also a lot of sound effects and colorful buttons,” he adds with a laugh.

He does clarify that the Casio in the group’s sound goes beyond mere gimmickry. “There’s a lot of noise in them, of course,” Endresen says about one of the problems of amping up Casio keyboards on stage. “But we try and use that as an effect.”

The problem with the Casio keyboard for performing artists is the fact that Casio made the bulk of their synthesizers to market for the pleasure of performance in family living rooms, with no need for amplification. With its synthesized keyboard, Casio provided the successor to the home organ. “There’s definitely some particular charm to it when you plug it into amps,” Endresen muses, “and we use a lot of different effects to it, and it’s really fun to play. Some of the songs we do have been really big, and it’s just based around some of these Casio keyboards. They were never really meant to be amped up or anything.”

Though on this night, before Casiokids’ show at the BackBooth, the stage set-up features many more percussion instruments over electronics (read a re-cap of the night’s show here), Endresen says the Casio featured more prominently in the band’s early days. “With me and Fredrik [Ogreid Vogsborg, guitars / keyboards / percussion], we started making things together, and we didn’t have any instruments really, except Casios that we borrowed from friends.”

He says the group really began almost flippantly. “In the beginning, it was just edits of things. We played on top of loops of songs. I remember the first edit we did was New Kids on the Block’s ‘the Right Stuff,’ and we played on top of it with Casios and used parts of the songs in loops and added rhythms. That was the beginning stages, I guess just playing around with it and having fun and being immediate. That’s always been the philosophy of it.”

Between the Casio keyboards and Afrobeat, there is something else at work in the sound of Casiokids. That becomes apparent when Endresen begins talking about collecting records while on his trek in the US. Endresen, who says he “used to work in a vintage vinyl shop in Bergen,” says he has come across some goodies in Austin, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama. “I usually buy jazz or more like electronic things on vinyl.”

When he mentions “electronic things,” he clarifies his passion for the early electronic rock pioneers of the Krautrock scene. “I really love Kraftwerk and Can and Faust,” he says. “These Krautrock bands I really look for because it’s the kind of bands that are really hard to find in vinyl shops.”

Likewise, vinyl is his preferred format for releasing Casiokids’ work, especially when it also accommodates for today’s current technology, like iPods. “We did a release now in the US … that is like double purple vinyl,” he says of Polyvinyl’s limited issuing (only 1,000 manufactured) of Topp stemning på lokal bar (support the Independent Ethos by buying the vinyl on Amazon through this link), whose title, according to the label’s website, loosely translates to “Great vibe at local bar.”

“I think it’s a really nice package because you get downloads for the songs as well,” Endresen continues, “so that package, I think, is the ideal combination because you get something of a very nice item that really gets the most out of the design of the pictures for the release. You also have it both on vinyl, and you can use it for your iPod or your computer.”

He does add that the format he really thinks seems to be dying is one that once sounded the death knell of the vinyl record in the mid-to-late eighties: the compact disc. “Of course, we’ve released CDs as well,” he says, “but what I find these days, whenever I buy CDs… I can’t remember the last time I did that, actually.”

Topp stemning på lokal bar is actually a compilation of songs and extras Casiokids had recorded and released piecemeal over the course of a year, mostly on Moshi Moshi Records, a UK-based record label. A contract with Champaign, IL-based Polyvinyl offered them the chance to gather their recent material into one compilation. “From like, late 2008 till late 2009, we released a lot of singles,” Endresen explains, “and we did collaborations and remixes, and we remixed a lot of people’s songs, so we did a lot of projects and collected them all in this package, this double album.”

Finally, he notes the Polyvinyl deal is much more than an avenue to allow music only released abroad to find a place on US store shelves without the inflated import prices. There are plans for a full-length album of all-new material before year’s end. “We’re working on an album now,” Endresen says, “which I hope we can finish in a month or so.”

He says the main thing that might be in the way of releasing the album any sooner is the band’s tour schedule. “It’s a lot of touring for us always, so it’s hard to find time for us,” says Endresen. “We have our own studio, so it’s flexible for our time, and we did the production ourselves, so we’re currently working towards a release in September of 2011 on Polyvinyl, so I hope that will work out,” he adds with a laugh. “If we don’t tour too much. With Casiokids it’s just an insane amount of touring. Last year we did 117 shows in 18 countries, so it’s been a very intense couple of years for us.”

During 2011’s SXSW, a music festival Endresen says Casiokids has visited three times now, the band premiered one of their new songs. Here is video footage of “Olympiske Leker”:

Endresen spoke much more about Casio keyboards, how the band writes lyrics that are even unintelligible for their countrymen and clarified much hype about some of the theatrical stage shows the blogosphere so promptly… and lazily… associates them with (no, they don’t routinely dress in fuzzy animal suits and have shadow puppet theater at their concerts). More on all that in part 2 of this exclusive feature.

For now, there are a couple dates left in their tour opening for Starfucker (however, the NYC show has sold out):

Mar 31  Philadelphia @ Johnny Brenda’s
Apr 2    New York City @ The Bowery Ballroom
Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Many a Japanese band or musician has crossed over to Western audiences by banking on traditionally western sensibilities (be it as digestible as standard jazz to something  as avant-garde as experimental noise). Shugo Tokumaru is not one of these. From the opening track on Port Entropy, Tokumaru establishes his music as rooted in a traditional Japanese aesthetic. The aptly titled “Platform” is just a 44-second instrumental prelude to the album that does much to set the foundation of the album ahead. It fades in with Tokumaru plucking at what sounds like a Koto, but the song is soon overtaken by piano, bells, guitar, mixed with other clearly eastern-sounding string instruments as electronic-sounding flutes tumble together on a short pleasant melody. According to the liner notes, Tokumaru plays all the instruments on the album, save for some drums on one solitary song (“Rum Hee”).

Though a distinct Japanese pop sensibility shines throughout Port Entropy, Tokumaru still leaves lots of room for western influences. Soon after “Platform” the album rolls along on mostly, dense orchestral pop moments like “Tracking Elevator” and “Lahaha,” which feature a fat sound, padded with wood block rhythms, glockenspiels and light, springing acoustic guitars. I might have even heard some banjo in the mix. It reminds me a bit of the pastoral yet complex poppy music of the California-based Beaulah, who were rooted in the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and latter period Beatles. You can hear “Lahaha” in its entirety via Tokumaru’s video for the song here:

“Rum Hee” is rhythmic bliss that recalls the perky side of Sigur Ros with its rolling tribal beat (no wonder he had some extra help by Itoken). Like Sigur Ros, the English-only crowd who will take the plunge into this lush US-version of the album (due Feb. 15) will do so with little to no interest for the lyrics, beyond the tone and vocal qualities Tokumaru brings, as he sings in Japanese, save for a few scattered words here and there. It’s all about the impression of the music, and the heavy rhythms coupled with dynamic melodies certainly feels expressive beyond language. The record even includes a lyric sheet in Japanese:

There are quiet moments, too. “Linne” opens with a melancholy piano melody and some notes softly blown on a wind instrument (possibly a muted trumpet), but the song is mostly Tokumaru playing the pleasant piano melody that wafts along below his sincere, hushed singing. During one phrase, the distant sounds of what sound like kids on the playground joins the music with birds chirping in the background and all. Later in the track, Tokumaru brings in the sing-song hum of a bowed saw. It’s a delicate moment on what is a mostly hectic, but fun and perky album that also features accordion, marimba and even toy piano.

Despite the many pop moments, the album becomes most interesting during its finale. The incredibly moody “Orange” opens on a delicate toy piano melody that recalls the cutesy yet orchestral work of Joe Hisaishi for so many Hayao Miyazaki anime pictures. A honking accordion rolls along as a hammered dulcimer and bowed saw vibrate in harmony to soaring heights. The song moves toward its end with a minute of spacey noise and vibrations as distant whistles (or are they screams?) rumble out of the ether, closing with the distant blasts of a carnival-like organ. Tokumaru offers a nice compliment to the oddest track on the album with the album’s finale, “Malerina.” It opens with Tokumaru singing from what sounds like a little speaker, accompanied by ukulele with other plucky instruments as backing vocals coo along.

Port Entropy is a vibrant, colorful album filled with dynamic shifts that wears its pop sensibilities proudly while not betraying its roots to a distinctly Japanese background. It is no surprise Tokumaru has achieved great success in Japan. The language barrier will prove that will never happen in the states, as impressionistic music can never find a happy home on the pop charts in this day and age. Nonetheless,  Tokumaru has garnered much respect having already opened for the Magnetic Fields and corralled members of the National and Beirut as his backing band for his own US shows (see Polyvinyl’s description, and stay tuned for an up-coming North American tour).

Officially first released early in 2010 in Japan to much acclaim and a major entry on that country’s pop charts for an indie artist, Port Entropy was later released on a German label that same year. It is only now that the album officially hits the States thanks to Polyvinyl Records (as I said, Feb. 15 is the official US street date).

The album seems to be a limited run. Polyvinyl only produced 1,000 on 180 gram green marbled vinyl and 2,000 on CD, and as you can see in the Amazon page above, the title plainly states “Limited Edition.” The generous indie label, shared a copy of the vinyl record with me, so I shall close with a close up look of the green marbled slab of wax (click on the image for a magnified view):

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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