There are prolific bands, and then there are Deerhoof. After releasing two separate records last year, they’re now back again with their 17th studio album since 1996. Yet there’s no sign that the San Francisco quartet are suffering from flagging energy levels – this is a half-hour album that just does not let up.
Opening track Be Unbarred O Ye Gates Of Hell (Deerhoof have always had a knack for a attention-grabbing song title) sets out the stall early. It’s fast, furious, jerky rock with twin guitar riffs from John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez. At points it sounds like guitar shredder legend Marnie Stern, with Satomi Matsuzaki’s sweet as honey vocals providing a neat contrast to the racket going around her.
With a stated aim of “two guitars, bass, drums, period, that’s it”, Deerhoof deliver on that manifesto throughout Actually, You Can. As befits a band who have been together for so long, they know how to create one hell of noise, and being thrown into a Deerhoof album can be a disorientating experience. With abstract lyrics, uncompromising guitar sounds and not really any tunes that you can hum along with, it could be challenging for any newcomers.
It’s not all played at a breakneck pace – We Grew And We Are Astonished does take the tempo down a bit, with meandering guitars and Matsuzaki’s repeated line of “are you ready to go straight to video?”, while Ancient Mysteries Described starts to establish a reflective tone until Dieterich and Rodriguez launch into a dizzyingly complex set of riffs.
Lyrically, there’s a lot going on. There’s a repeated motif about plants being grown – that opening track Be Unbarred O Ye Gates Of Hell talks of onions and tomatoes being planted, while there’s an entire track, Plant Thief about someone stealing Matsuzaki’s herbs and spices and using them to cook with. It could be a commentary on imperialism and colonialism but, as ever, there’s so much happening that it’s hard to tell.
Divine Comedy makes for a fitting finale to the album, which begins in rather a low-key manner but then gradually becomes more and more intense over the course of its five minutes. As ever, the jerky math-rock of the guitars sit uneasily alongside Matsuzaki’s sing-song vocals, which gives the song an added tension.
This is, of course, very much an acquired taste and Actually You Can probably isn’t the best album to introduce the uninitiated to the delights of Deerhoof. By now, you very much know what you’re getting with them, and Actually You Can is another example of why they have such a strong cult following.