For those familiar, it generally seems there are two types of reactions to the band Deerhoof: those who savagely adore the group, who see their magically bizarre brand of art rock as some of the greatest and most original music being made today; or those who absolutely despise them, who cringe at the grating sound of said magically bizarre art rock, who simply wish Deerhoof would just shut the hell up and go away.
ALBUM: “Friend Opportunity”
LABEL: Kill Rock Stars
Perhaps “Friend Opportunity,” Deerhoof’s latest effort on Kill Rock Stars, was made in attempts to reach out to the latter group. Having already convinced the former with seven albums worth of joyful uproar, perhaps Deerhoof felt their trademark unpredictability was getting, well, a tad too predictable.
Rounded out by the squeaky vocal chirps, electro-beep ditties and thumping bass of frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki, guitarists John Dietrich and Chris Cohen’s fuzzy garage guitar licks, and drummer Greg Saunier’s marching band drum fills, Deerhoof banded together in 1994 on “The Man, The King, The Girl,” unleashing their convulsively experimental pop on the indie rock world.
2005 brought their excellent “The Runners Four,” a sprawling concept record of fantastical mysteries, fairytale characters, and yet, somehow, a slight derailment from the unnecessarily weird. Deerhoof’s immense musical progress was obvious, and the consistent surprises found on “Runners” made it not only one of the best albums of the year, but of their own catalog as well.
Following it up would have been challenging enough. Then, Cohen split to focus on his other project, the Curtains, and Deerhoof thinned down to a trio. To match, “Friend Opportunity” carries a slightly leaner sound and, though not packing quite the same punch as some of their previous albums, is still a fearless gem and likely their most linear album to date.
“Friend Opportunity” is the type of album that could only come from artists perfectly willing to rethink their entire aesthetic while still staying true to it. The disc maintains a simplistic, childlike wonderment throughout, unearthing entire worlds beneath the group’s charming narratives and rich instrumentation as if the listener is perpetually on some enchanting secret Nintendo-level odyssey.
The songs are sweet and condensed, the melodies brutally satisfying and the vocals as quirky as ever (for instance, the helium-voiced Matsuzaki pseudo-raps about morphing into a canine over a beat of cartoonish dog yips). Opener “The Perfect Me” bounces back and forth between spindly haunted-house verses and elegant little choruses. Tracks like panicky “Believe E.S.P.” have a raw, hip-hop-like bounce to them, while gentler, soaring ballads like “The Galaxist” provide necessary balance to the host of scattered sounds. And “Matchbook Seeks Maniac” might be Deerhoof’s most blatantly unabashed pop tune yet, highlighted by a heavy church organ groove and, per usual, epic guitar riffs that prove Dietrich is just fine holding down the fort on his own.
The band’s sheer delight in toying with the possibilities of pop and rock music remains thankfully untarnished, allowing their songs the chance to be all at once explosive, yet to the point.
Again, “Friend Opportunity” isn’t Deerhoof at their most thrilling, but it’s simultaneously familiar and fresh enough to succeed admirably. In other words, making music more accessible doesn’t mean it must be dumbed down. Deerhoof are still as rowdy, original and intelligent as ever, proof that a band can explore mainstream tastes without losing the flavor that made it unique in the first place.