Everybody knows pop music is full of latent danger; were it not, people wouldn't get so excited and upset over it. San Francisco experimental quartet Deerhoof, formed in 1994, has found new ways of unleashing this danger. They do so by relentlessly tweaking the basic structures of the pop song, sometimes playing them straight, sometimes turning them on their head, and sometimes abandoning them entirely in favor of freeform noise abstraction.
Blonde Redhead and the Boredoms have often been offered by critics as reference points (in large part, perhaps, due to the presence of Japanese female vocalists with unconventional singing styles in all three), and while those comparisons do help contextualize Deerhoof's sound, they fail to get to the essence of what this unusual band is all about.
There are indeed many avant-garde elements of their songs: noisy guitar figures, beeping Casio lines, periodic bursts of drum clatter, tinny bedroom production, singer Satomi's singsong vocal delivery that always has you wondering "where is she taking that melody?...is that a melody?".
But what's particularly remarkable is the way they unleash an effervescent childlike energy. Not naÔve by any stretch, just childlike. When Deerhoof gets real noisy, it's the equivalent of a child on the kitchen floor pulling all the pots and pans out of the cupboard. In other words, Deerhoof makes experimental pop nursery rhymes.
Between 1997 and 2004, the band released five albums, amongst which the critically acclaimed 'Reveille' and 'Milk Man'. 2005 was some busy year for the band: not only did they embark on tours of the U.S., Europe and Japan, they released the 'Green Cosmos' EP, the full-length 'The Runners Four' and a Deerhoof tribute album that was only available on the band's website.
2006: they're back, and they'll rock the Rh‚‚‚ Lovely Festival!
-) 1997 : 'The Man, The King, The Girl' on Kill Rock Stars.
-) 1999 : 'Holdy Paws' on Kill Rock Stars.
All Music's point of view :
The music on Holdy Paws seems very live, like the band is actually playing right in front of you in your room. The Blonde Redhead comparisons are unavoidable: higher-pitched female vocals backed by thick distorted guitar, angular drums, and very minimal keyboards. The single-note keyboard parts seem to push Deerhoof along to a slightly different direction. What really makes this record interesting is the anthropomorphism of the lyrics. Deerhoof is possibly trying to tell the feelings of animals in the perspective of the animals. They bring you into the animal realm, but never take you on an adventure, just kind of leaving you stranded. "The Moose's Daughter" has a Shellac sound, tough guitars drone in a steady rhythm. The melody comes through with a nursery rhyme style, which gives the song a haunting touch. "Crow," like many of the tracks on Holdy Paws, has a chorus that seems to break the repetitious nature of the verses. These choruses are a sigh of relief in the direction you want Deerhoof to explore more. The little doodles on the insert mimic the clashing feelings of playfulness and melancholy of the record.
David Serra - website.
-) 2002 : 'Reveille' on Kill Rock Stars.
Popmatters' point of view :
Deerhoof are scary. What they have done on their latest release, Reveille, is reimagine the "Dies Irae" as populated by little furry things. These are the first words spoken on the album by Satomi Matsuzaki: "The trumpet scatters its awful sound over the graves of all lands / Summoning all before the throne / Death and mankind shall be stunned / When nature arises to give account before the judge". One way of reading "nature" in this verse is in an abstract sense. But in the pseudo-cosmology created by Deerhoof on this album, it is specifically the animals that will be judging humans. [...]
Despite sounding experimental at times (the ominously jazzy, minimal feel of "Days & Nights in the Forest", the distorted eeps, harmonica, and disjointed drums of "No One Fed Me So I Stayed"), this album is strangely engaging. It's even blatantly poppy at times, like on "Holy Night Fever", which moves from a spastic intro to a juke-joint rave-up, or on the gentle, drum machine folk of "The Eyebright Bugler".
This poppy-but-"out" aspect of Reveille is best felt on "Frenzied Handsome, Hello!" The clashing/clanging instruments in the beginning give way to the beautiful harmonies of Matsuzaki singing, "Ask me all about the world! / All about the worms!" and a middle section whose beautiful tumbling-waterfall keyboards sound like the end-credit music for a mutant Walt Disney movie where the animals triumph over their human oppressors and run amok across the now-deserted landscape. (It really is tempting to read this release as a concept album; such a reading would probably explain that this album actually is the lost soundtrack to a mutant Walt Disney movie.) Rather than ending on this triumphant note, though, the song concludes with the guitar running through a chord progression similar to the one that began it. It's almost as if the triumphant animals, in their gamboling joy, forgot about that last damn human on earth, who's absolutely dead-set on practicing his instrument.
This is maddening album. But it's absolutely a rewarding one.
Anthony C. Bleach - website.
-) 2003 : 'Apple O' on Kill Rock Stars.
Fake Jazz's point of view :
[...] It seems just yesterday that Reveille, perhaps 2002's best album, was still fresh in the ears of the collective music-listening public, and upon us already is its younger sibling, Apple O'. [...] True to its predecessors, Apple O' continues to showcase the breed of excellence that Deerhoof first fully explored on Holdypaws, their second CD. The rambling pop melodies, jarring clatter of drums, and unpredictable rhythms are all there; Matsuzaki's tiny sing-song vocals and the sheer fun of it all are omnipresent throughout. And though the disc finds Deerhoof continuing to mine the land they've been working on for the past few years, they don't fail to dig new bounty from the soil. Acoustic guitars are more prevalent than ever before, and there's a rollicking energy that the disc often exudes reminiscent of the pioneers of early rock 'n' roll. The experimentation with electronics that debuted on Reveille continues, though not in exactly the same way, as samples become more prevalent, even, at times, making up a song's total construction. [...]
How lucky for us that a band with such prodigious music-writing aplomb is also a band with such a constantly growing discography. If you're still a Deerhoof virgin, do yourself a favor and taste this forbidden fruit. If you've been partaking of these sensual pleasures all along, open wide for a new serving of love, Deerhoof style.
Adam Strohm - website.
-) 2004 : 'Milk Man' on Kill Rock Stars.
Wackiness' point of view :
[...] Stylistically, Milk Man is not much of a change from the avant-bubblegum of Apple O' or Reveille, apart from an increase in distortion and a decrease in filler, the former of which is introduced immediately - "Milk Man" starts out with jarring power chords and drum fills, an unexpected blast of noise that gets your attention from the very beginning. Apple O' employed a similar technique with "Dummy Discards a Heart", but Milk Man deserves this demanded attention more. The high points are as high as they ever were, and the low points are significantly higher than they ever were. [...]
Noah - website.
-) 2005 : 'The Runners Four' on Kill Rock Stars.
Pitchfork Media's point of view :
So tomorrow, Deerhoof put on their Tuesday best and release their first straight-up guitar-rock album-- short, dense songs packed into familiar forms, full-bodied vocals for unabashed, often gut-punching melodies, less herk-jerk, less of that house-of-cards spirit that coursed through Reveille and Apple O. Some people will miss that.
Milk Man, Pt. 2? Not really. Deerhoof aren't holding back here so much as redistributing their energies; where before we found cute in the grotesque, now the opposite. My offer: I'll concede that Milk Man was poppy, watered down, desperate love shit if you'll actually listen close to The Runners Four and realize that it's onto something else entirely-- by turns jubilant, confused, afraid, angry, sad, relieved, all pretty poignant, yes. They've made us a hugging record. Nothing ridiculous or pretentious about hugging.
Almost twice the length of their other LPs, The Runners Four plays not as one big song, but as three swoops of six or seven. That first swoop (from "Chatterboxes" to "Odyssey") might dishearten the diehard, at least initially. Drummer Saunier, famed for his freakish battery, barely touches the set, but in his absence we get compositional tension, which is sometimes more intense than Saunier's top-down. Dueling guitar lines bristle close in the rub ("Chatterboxes"), and harmonics stab away at Chris Cohen's existential pirate ballad "Odyssey": "Pirates on an odyssey/ We ask the captain 'What will be?'" Now pirates count for some of the biggest douchebags this world has ever seen, but they get scared, too-- people forget that.
"Wrong Time Capsule" starts swoop #2 with Runners' most on-the-sleeves guitar riff, a cry to echo singer Satomi's dejected message in a bottle: "Don't forget me yesterday/ 'Cause today's no place to stay." The trill stays fever-high with unison chants on guitars and vox ("Scream Team"), folksy-bluesy confessions/comeuppance on "After Me the Deluge" ("Middle love I did do you harm whenever I want to"), up to "Siriustar", Deerhoof's sparse-to-gigantic guitar anthem, like nothing they've written before. I think it's about a werewolf.
The next third dips into more emotionally resonant stuff-- the furthest capitulation of Deerhoof's animalism so far, where lyrically they can guess the emotions of all things living (people being chased by spies) or non-living (lightning rods). We can wonder, as they do, if lemons are sad when we eat them, stuff like that, though Deerhoof make sure to push things inside-out, rescuing something human from the rumination. Runners' gut-puncher, the third swoop rounds out with "You're Our Two" as needly guitar lines sandwich Satomi's image-heavy paranoia: "Cast afloat on icy water/ Can I really leave?" then "Ark sailing/ Believe all fools or die."
A somber if slightly perplexing note to end on, it's the right one for this album. But Deerhoof don't leave us there. Instead they give us "RRRRRRight", a chirpy, stark, primitive cut Š la "Come See the Duck". Of course, after an album so unafraid to ask for our love, Satomi's ga-gas and oompah-oompahs feel somewhat inconsequential. Then I saw Deerhoof play the song live and understood why they have it here: The song is ginger, a palette cleanser as much for us as for them. Love what happened, they ask, forget what happened, start all over again.
Nick Sylvester - website.