2011 has already welcomed some interestingly titled LP’s to the record shelves. The Decemberists made a declarative statement concerning deceased monarchs and Iron & Wine touted the hygienic benefits of fornication. But perhaps the cheekiest contestant in this year’s name game would be Deerhoof’s semi-self titled album, Deerhoof vs. Evil.
The title is a perfect fit for the band that puts the panda back in pandemonium. With a sound that embraces the cute and cacophonic like a demonically possessed Tickle Me Elmo doll, you’d be hard-pressed to find another group so well qualified to take on nefarious forces. In the face of evil, Deerhoof lacerates with thorny chords, stampedes with club-footed rhythms, then binds their foes in pink ribbons and gags them with a Tootsie Roll Pop. With their most recent face off, the band culls the strengths of their past couple knockouts and cuts the fat.
In their old age (now going on seventeen years) Deerhoof has grown wise in the ways of oddity. Capitalizing on the King Crimson-in-Candyland excess of 2007’s Friend Opportunity and the Keith Richards/Japanese game show mash-up of Offend Maggie, every song here weighs the former’s sample and synth bubbles with the latter’s blues skronk riffage.
The album begins with a brief fall through an angular rabbit hole, letting the beat scatter sideways before settling on a slow lope with a novel lyric treatment (novel at least to this millennium). While Satomi Matsuzaki has long given the band it’s vocal identity with her chirping nursery rhyme mantras, the first track sees her staking out new lyrical territory: latin. Frankly at this point in their career, it likely wouldn’t surprise their fans if they sang in tongues. The song is at once an exorcism and an exercise: their stuttering rhythms constantly rein back to a throbbing pulse before the final moments cast out the chaos to a triumphant major cadence.
“Behold a Marvel in the Darkness” belies its bloated title with a bouncy acoustic guitar and a coquettish refrain of “what is this thing called love” that can only break to a deliriously fuzzed out bass. With “I Did Crimes for You” the band makes highway robbery cuddly with Satomi bleeting “this is a stick up/smash the window” before the romantically uplifting chorus. And the understated but gorgeous “No One Asked to Dance” obediently stays with its subdued Spanish guitar flourishes, even if it soon welcomes an electric harpsichord into its gypsy arms.
Propelled by a instrumental fist-pumping odd meter, “Let’s Dance the Jet” charges towards the LP’s standout track “Super Duper Rescue Heads!” Ringing in with dream-pop keyboard arpeggios, the song deftly illustrates Deerhoof’s maturity: they have learned to form all of their noise rock idiosyncrasies, their sing along nonsense, and their dirty syncopation to imaginative but grounded song forms. The verse is simple, groovy, and catchy, the chorus is wordless but vocally transcendent, and the bridge sounds like a Casio factory burning down.
Deerhoof learned long ago to compartmentalize their schizophrenia into these thankfully sane song forms. But now eleven albums in, they’ve come to adhere to the model within the constraints of the album as well. The album’s flightiest and most dissonant track (“Hey I Can”) comes only after the blues strut rocker (“Secret Mobility”) has slinked up and seduced you.
While vs. Evil clocks in at their shortest running time since 2003’s Apple O’, Deerhoof manages to pack it all in and stitch it up with surgical efficiency. With a pop sensibility so beguiling, you’d have to be well beyond the realm of evil to not be curious for a listen. Last year saw the Flaming Lips leaving their seat as curators of psych-pop with their dark and cathartic Embryonic, but rest assured the joyously bizarre is still alive and fighting thanks to Deerhoof. The young year’s most expansive yet concise listening experience yet, Deerhoof vs. Evil is a bout well worth tuning in for and ultimately a victory worth celebrating.