Album Reviews

Deerhoof – vs Evil

(ATP) UK release date: 31 January 2011

With the release of Deerhoof’s 11th album, and a recording and performing career now stretching back through more than 15 years and many different incarnations, this US/Japan band are firmly established as something of a “national treasure” – if the “nation” consists of alternative music enthusiasts. Now seemingly set to fight the cause of righteousness, this completely self-recorded, mixed and mastered release would seem like the perfect platform for the band to consolidate their position and perhaps pick up new adherents along the way.

The – perhaps surprising – overall impression you get from this album is of its underlying coherence. Of course, there are the usual skittish time-signatures (Qui Dorm, Nom�s Somia, Hey I Can, Secret Mobilization), and mood and tone digressions (Behold A Marvel In The Darkness, Almost Everyone, Almost Always) – and these have always been a major part of the band’s appeal. However, once your ear attunes to the pace(s) and melod(ies), threads of consistency – hooks, tunes, accessible and straightforward sections – are revealed.

Take the opening track Qui Dorm, Nom�s Somia, for example. The gentle, random sounding plink-plonks and heavy bassy segments are pulled together by the tune and Satomi Matsuzaki’s sugar-sweet vocal. Or the jaunty, jazzy I Did Crimes For You – one of several tracks (see also Super Duper Rescue Heads!, Must Fight Current) that will lodge irresistible earworms in the listener’s head.

Matsuzaki’s singing is particularly sweet on Behold A Marvel In The Dark. Its interplay with the alternate laid-back strums and more urgent shimmering guitar breaks is effective and provides lovely layers of resonance. No One Asked To Dance is marvellous too: high, pure vocal and wispy oohs and ahhs over Spanish flamenco-style guitar. Both Behold A Marvel In The Darkness and Must Fight Current feature male and female vocals, combining and alternating harmoniously.

The stand-out track – sounding most fully-achieved, synth driven and possessed of a fluent bass line – is Super Duper Rescue Heads! With its “Hello, hello / You lucky so-and-so” refrain and jerky yet ridiculously catchy tune, it manages to combines cuteness and humour, charmingly. Also great are the laconic/anthemic Behold A Marvel In The Darkness, The Merry Barracks (all glam rock riff at the outset), and the album’s two closing tracks. I Did Crimes For You, perhaps the most jaunty, least frightening uttering of “This is a stick-up” that you are likely to ever hear, is followed by the wide-eyed, wonder-struck closing track Almost Everyone, Almost Always (with distinct echoes of Wayne Coyne).

Hey I Can brings math-y, Battles-alike rhythms but fails to quite hang together, and is probably the least engaging track here, along with Let’s Fight The Jet: less interesting simply by being purely instrumental.

But there is much else here to enjoy. On an album that clocks in at only a little over half an hour, the band’s fight against the dark forces would seem to be one that they’ve come out the better from. Certainly, if Evil can be defeated by whimsy and cuteness combined with an underlying fearlessness, and with earworms and humour as additional weapons, then it would seem to be Battle Over.

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More on Deerhoof
Deerhoof – Actually, You Can
Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artists
Deerhoof – The Magic
Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
Deerhoof @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London