Album Reviews

Deerhoof – Breakup Song

(ATP) UK release date: 24 September 2012

If this album’s title suggests this might be Deerhoof’s first foray into the world of gentle, reflective balladry, the rapid-fire burst of whimsical energy in its mercilessly concise 30 minutes quickly proves otherwise. Over the course of a now long and prolific career, the band have become easy to take for granted. New albums appear with dependable regularity and always maintain a high level of performance and innovation, without ever quite elevating them above cult status.

Breakup Song is a typically magnificent blast of sophisticated trickery and manic energy. Deerhoof songs always seem to tread a perilous fine line between cleverness and sheer irritation, usually staying just on the right side of it. As brilliant and exciting as their albums can be, it is sometimes difficult to build an emotional connection with their intricate, crisp and attacking music.

This delirious, sometimes rapturous album provides multiple surprises and moments of mischief. There’s That Grin and Flower build from purposeful and supple grooves, with arrangements that make careful use of space, sound and texture. Then there’s the angular, gangly, awkward propulsion of The Trouble With Candyhands and the mischievous We Do Parties. Deerhoof have long been preoccupied with the possibilities of rhythm and placement. Drummer Greg Saunier has always seemed like the group’s key member. These concerns very much continue here, with Satomi Matsuzaki’s cutesy vocals engaging in articulate dialogue with the rhythm section.

Yet there are also points at which Deerhoof begin to reveal what may be the foundations of a new, mature phase. On Mothball The Fleet, Matsuzaki’s vocals are more subsumed within the overall tapestry of the arrangement. At times, it comes close to resembling Stereolab in their prime, but somehow sounds warmer and more flighty. The closing Fete d’Adieu (on which Matsuzaki considers “am I sore in the heart?”) might be the most infectious and immediate track the band have recorded to date. It feels like a very contemporary update on the New Wave sound, with crunchy chords and a brilliantly memorable refrain. Of course, this being Deerhoof, it’s also characterised by unusual syncopation – a disorientating, lopsided rhythmic emphasis that once again separates this band from both their peers and their influences.

Ultimately, Breakup Song feels like a celebration of freedom. This includes freedom from a troubled relationship, perhaps, the freedom to party and, most importantly, the freedom of a band that continues to experiment and define its own identity. It’s a bright, brief, crystalline work that is a more than worthy addition to one of the most consistently excellent catalogues in alternative music.

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