Album Review: Deerhoof – The Magic

The Magic

deerhoof-the-magicReleased 24th June 2016

Words: Nick Jacques

Formed in San Francisco in 1994, Deerhoof have undergone many nips and tucks both musically and band member wise to reach this stage of their careers.

With 16 albums and counting – their creative streak is still alive and well; they’re like a well-oiled machine or sturdy conveyor belt that unveils different and colourful sound patterns at every turn, just when you think they might have run out of felt tip.

Their songs are made up of many facets that baffle and astound in equal measure. Each song seems to comprise of their own little world which only Deerhoof know the password to. They’re made up of varying styles similar to that of other purveyors of the noise pop and avant garde genres like Stereolab and The Dirty Projectors. The comparison to the latter even more so as they have toured together and have played at ATP events in the past too.

Deerhoof have doses of swagger on their latest offering. There’s a sense of erratic but seamless chemistry that is constant throughout The Magic.

Songs like opener Kafe Magic, Model Behaviour and That Ain’t No Life To Me are crammed full of disorientating song dynamics which Deerhoof use to their advantage. There’s a vibrant and creative mixture of styles being thrown into the cooking pot here; slap-dash drum skiffles, distorted vocals, beguiling and abstract electronics, squelching riffs with killer hooks. As complex as these elements may appear at first, with an extra listen or so they all seem to fuse together in the most unlikely but pleasing manner of ways.

Criminals of The Dream is a highlight for me. It opens with scenic synths before giving way to a rugged garage rock riff that builds and then is supported with hollering ethereal tones that are sprinkled all over it with Matsuzaki’s delicately repeated lyrics “You can dream” finishing off the proceedings. In a way it reminds me of a spaced out Velvet Underground.

Take the track Life Is Suffering for example, it proceeds to meander a long in a restrained fashion for Deerhoof’s standards before it erupts at the end into a brief uncontrolled frenzy. It shouldn’t work but it does. They have honed and crafted their own creations over the years and this album is at times a great example.

Learning To Apologise Effectively consists of arresting vocals, loose and cruching riffs. It’s an engaging number with distorted guitar shimmers and impressive drumming. Another track that is also worthy of being apart of the album.

Amongst all the buzz and activity in Deerhoof’s musical anatomy, vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki remains an arresting and distinctive presence at the heart of the band’s DNA. With the band complementing and contributing different and distinctive soundscapes of their own.

One characteristic that is prevalent throughout The Magic is the strong sense of feel-good riffs and breaking free from their shackles; songs build around an array of innocent ‘big hair’ guitar riffs; this stands out on Dispossessor. A dizzying and enjoyable clatter of symbols combined with fuzzy distortion penetrate the ear lobes with wanton abandon – glorious stuff!

The Magic is a record that constantly demands your attention due to its varying dynamics. At times it’s not a cohesive listen but to me this seems to work in its favour as it’s not a conventional record in the traditional sense and instead poses a challenge for the listener.

Surprisingly, there are at times also sounds of early Moloko being thrown into mixer with the track Debut being the pick of the bunch here. A moody and deep funky synth displays a Moloko-esque vibe and it works well with Matsukai’s husky tones here.

Plastic Thrill is one of the more conventional straight up rock numbers. It’s a short and sharp injection of The Stooges inspired garage sound with a surfer-rock feel added to it. Deerhoof are capable of changing gears when it suits them and show this on several occasions throughout the album. They’re able to conjure up something different at every corner to keep your attention.

The surprises keep coming with Little Hollywood – it offers up something different to the fray. Consisting of what seems like tribal beats, sporadic mantra-like harmonies and metallic riffs.

One thing that is also ever present on this album is how short the songs are. There are times where I think it would be better if Deerhoof could expand on the some of the sounds they create and let them breathe a bit more. My only criticism of The Magic is with tracks like Little Hollywood, Plastic Thrill and Debut, although they’re no fillers but their standards, they could be expanded on in order to give more of a robust and dense feel to the album. At times I just found the album to be a bit wanting but by and large The Magic as a whole isn’t short of a few rabbits in a top hat.

It finishes up with the equally baffling Nurse Me; collapsing drum rolls, aloof synths, angular riffs, bursts of random sirens. In a way this song encapsulates Deerhoof’s sound and chemistry. They’re made up of complex equations which keep the listener guessing and you’re never quite sure what might come next. I was certain that their final track would throw up some kind of hidden or unexpected multi-layered drum solo or thirst quenching guitar frenzy or ear-melting synth distortions, but it wasn’t to be.

With this thought in mind The Magic makes for an ultimately engaging listen. If bag falls of enjoyable off-kilter charm laced with sweet avant garde laments and big hair garage rock riffs are your prime choice of cuts, then you’ve come to right place with Deerhoof. Bon appetite!

Watch the video for Criminals Of The Dream here:




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