Album Reviews

Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity

(ATP) UK release date: 12 March 2007

When it comes to music everyone likes to pigeon-hole bands or artists and a lot of the time it’s very simple to do so. Eminem is very obviously part of the rap genre while Motorhead could only be described as heavy metal. But if you were made to bracket Deerhoof then you have a problem.

The three-piece from San Francisco quite simply defy such definitions. Sure, they cross over various genres – most notably progressive rock, indie and even classical – but Deerhoof’s brand of music is totally unique and can only be heard to be described effectively, and even then you’d still be struggling.

Which other bands do you know that have a midget-sized Japanese vocalist with a high-pitched tone that would shatter the glass of any window within earshot and whom often once performed wearing an orange bear suit? Weird? Yes, they are a bit, but that’s why they have attracted such a fan base, and it is one that is only set to continue growing.

Their last album, 2005’s The Runners Four, was considered by many to be their best work to date. Whether their latest offering is better is open to debate but one thing Friend Opportunity definitely can be described as is their calmest album to date. It’s like a lunatic entering an asylum and then leaving at some point later more serene yet still with that psychotic edge bubbling underneath.

Opening track The Perfect Me offers up a fine example of the disorganised chaos the band have presented in the past with such aplomb. A friend recently said to me that there are times a band’s music has you so consumed that you can forgive moments of indulgence that you wouldn’t normally give the time of day to. He was referring to the proggy parts on The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife and with Deerhoof it is very much the same. They have always given more than a nod to the likes of Yes and King Crimson and this organ-infested first track finds them still paying homage.

Unlike those prog bands of the past though Deerhoof cram everything into a very short space of time. In fact, nine of the ten tracks on the album run to no more than just over three minutes, but somehow they get more twists and turns into those 180 seconds than most bands get in an entire album. You literally have no idea what’s coming next – it’s like going on a rollercoaster with a blindfold on.

The musicianship and inventiveness has got to be admired. Take theamazingly complex drum work by Greg Saunier on the beautiful The Galaxist, while some of John Dieterich’s guitar playing is nothing short of impressive. And trying to play on a track like Kidz Are So Small has got to be applauded as there is no kind of melody to the song at all as it jumps all over the place, slowing down and speeding up before sudden bursts of weird beeps. It’s so disjointed, but utterly brilliant.

The thing that people remember most about Deerhoof however is the quirky squeaky vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki. Most of what she sings is totally undecipherable yet even if you could hear what she was singing you still would be none the wiser. Very child-like lyrics like “Choo, Choo, Choo, Choo” on +81 make Jon Anderson’s verbal diarrhoea on Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans seem almost sensible.

Yet it really doesn’t matter what the pint-sized Miss Matsuzaki is singing as most of the time it just works. Friend Opportunity isn’t perfect though. Believe E.S.P. is quite boring by Deerhoof standards, while one has to ask why they felt to need for the 11-plus minute final track Look Away. Like a blind man stumbling around heading nowhere fast, sure it has some pretty moments, but there were prettier moments in the shorter tracks and much more of that anarchic chaos we have got to know and love too.

The Deerhoof experience is something everyone has to try at some point however and Friend Opportunity, being more accessible than any of their previous offerings, would seem as good a time as any to dip your toe in the pool.

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