After 20 years together and a grand total of 13 studio albums, it’s fair to say you know what you’re getting with Deerhoof. The claim that their last album, La Isla Bonita, was their ‘commercial, poppy’ effort was presumably delivered with a tongue firmly embedded in the cheek, and this follow-up continues to display their obtuse, abstract side to often thrilling effect.
The Magic was apparently recorded in some deserted office space in the middle of a New Mexico desert over the course of a single week, and there’s a sense of urgency and abandon running through all 15 tracks. Opening track The Devil And His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue (and how’s that for an introductory song title?) sets the tone perfectly – off-kilter guitar riffs, odd time signature changes and Satomi Matsuzaki’s light, airy vocals all combine beautifully.
Deerhoof are the sort of band who are happy to jump from genre to genre, often in the space of a single song. Kafe Mania has some bludgeoning guitar chords but there’s a surprisingly sweet bubblegum pop sensibility hidden under the surface. Life Is Suffering is built upon ever more intricate guitar lines which coast along on a wave of early ’90s grungy ennui, and Model Behaviour even tries, and succeeds to a degree, at bringing some Red Hot Chili Peppers style rock-funk to the mix.
With an ever-present sense of restless chaos hanging in the air, The Magic sometimes becomes too sprawling. A reverb-soaked jazzy cover of The Ink-Spots‘ I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire seems to bring the album’s previously strong momentum to a juddering halt, and there’s still time for filler like the 50-second lo-fi interlude Patrasche Come Back.
Yet when they hit form, Deerhoof still sound like no other band on earth. Album centrepiece (and the longest track on the record) Criminals Of The Dream is a woozy, dreamy melancholy masterpiece, and on the rare times when they cross into pure indie pop, as on Plastic Thrills or the lovely Acceptance Speech, they do so impossibly well. It’s only when Matsuzaki takes a back seat, as on the Ed Rodriguez-fronted That Ain’t No Life To Me, where Deerhoof sound disconcertingly, disappointingly, normal.
As with every single other Deerhoof album, The Magic won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s disorientating, the lyrics are pretty much indecipherable and it can sometimes sound a bit of a mess. Also, at 15 tracks (even if some of these last under two minutes), it nearly edges into outstaying its own welcome. Yet, after 20 years, Deerhoof have surely earned the right to tread their own path. And The Magic is yet another example of this most idiosyncratic of bands doing things their own wonderful way.