Kill Rock Stars, 2007
By Lonny Knapp
Deerhoof defies description.
Most music critics use comparisons to help describe the sound of a relatively new band to their readers, who have possibly never heard the artist in question; most readers of CD reviews have come to rely on these comparisons to help them imagine what a band will sound like. If I wrote “Deerhoof sounds like The Stooges fronted by Björk” you would stop reading, look ponderously up towards the left, and feel that you had a pretty good idea of how the music on Friend Opportunity would sound. But you’d be wrong. And although I’m tempted to say Deerhoof sound a bit like a mixture of Jethro Tull, Stereolab and Puffy AmiYumi, I wouldn’t want to lead you astray. I’ve tried to think of witty comparisons to other artists but I was stymied. Deerhoof sounds like Deerhoof.
It’s a good thing.
Deerhoof have been recording, touring, and releasing albums since the late nineties, and have had more line-up changes, false break-ups, and brushes with success than most bands, but only in the last few years have they been recognized by the mainstream media. After being handpicked for coveted opening slots on high profile tours of The Flaming Lips and Radiohead last year, Deerhoof found themselves the cause of a well-deserved media buzz. In 2006, the band headlined the best-attended free outdoor concert in New York City and ended the year with their album The Runners Four appearing on many critics’ top-ten lists.
With Friend Opportunity, the San Francisco band’s ninth album, Deerhoof find themselves in a position few could have predicted: on the verge of commercial success. Undeterred by the weight of high expectation, the three-piece band has risen to the occasion and released an album that is both accessible and defining. Singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, with her sweet Japanese-accented voice, sounds blissfully out of place singing along with the Meters-inspired syncopated riff of guitarist John Dieterich, and the funky cowbell groove laid down by drummer Greg Saunier on “Believe E.S.P”, a track that induces involuntary head-bobbing from beginning to end. Already a top forty hit in the U.K., the lead-off single “+81” features trumpet blasts, marching band rhythms, an insanely infectious sing-along chorus, and a nonlinear arrangement that had me intrigued from the first time I heard it months ago. Weighing in at a hefty eleven minutes and forty-five seconds, “Look Away,” the final cut on the album, is an opus. From its lush beginning to its noise-rock crescendo and never-ending ending, “Look Away” is pure art-rock and will satisfy fans of the band’s earlier work.
In today’s tepid musical climate, Deerhoof are refreshingly original. They challenge the listener, and for those who are up for it, the rewards are many. In an industry that produces cookie-cutter bands for fans who love categories, that originality could have been their downfall, thus far. But Friend Opportunity may just be accessible enough to grant the band the commercial success that has eluded them.
File this record under kickass.