Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil

Album cover
Deerhoof
Deerhoof vs. Evil
Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil Review rating:
3.5
User rating:
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Devil is in the details. Or is it in between the lines? Truthfully the list of applicable omens for almost any of Deerhoof's twitchy art-punk albums is a mile long. Ranging from moments of inspired brevity to offbeat experimentation that would be better left on the cutting room floor—more often than not it is a safe bet to handle with kid gloves. The band's chaotic birthing through massive line up changes and an all-around improvisational ethos have always been an equal source of mystique and aggravation. With albums like The Runners Four (2005), Reveille (2002) and Apple O (2003), Deerhoof played a delicate balance between their blatant eccentricities (child-like j-pop vocals, spastic instrumentation cemented in a distinct groove) and pure pop sensibilities. And while they certainly have never really made a complete dud of a record (alright maybe Milk Man (2004)) there is a certain grain of salt one must take with a Deerhoof record that at times is less a saving grace and more just a troublesome pain in the ass.

Deerhoof vs. Evil thankfully falls into the former category as the album is a breath of fresh air of sorts for a group of musicians who by all rights should never have sounded stale. Even as expectations are staggering from album to album the band has kept themselves pretty independent from not only their peers but from their own catalog. With Deerhoof vs. Evil slotting itself right in as yet another interesting take on the possibilities of punk and pop music. Unlike their last couple of records (Friend Opportunity (2007) and Offend Maggie (2008) specifically) Deerhoof vs. Evil actually feels like a full album as opposed to a collection of hit-or-miss experimental pop songs. And while not everything here is worth an expressive letter home—the album finds its stride within the atmosphere created by its heavy grooves, walls of synths and mounds of personality.

Back in 2004 when Deerhoof released probably their least effective album to date, Milk Man, the band had presented itself as a more straight-forward pop outfit—at least in comparison to what Deerhoof had already proven it could be. While the album had its moments it was generally mired in an almost lackadaisical sedation. All the little goof-ball quirks and innocent poppy-hooks became less intricately juxtaposed and more saccharine once the songs were constructed in a less-abrasive manner. Yet the idea in and of itself—this Deerhoof a la Pop—was contextually exactly what the band needed. Granted it took three more albums of intense experimentation and rigid indie-rock by way of Japanese Pop to reach the cohesiveness toted with Deerhoof vs. Evil. Even as some of their previous records may be slightly superior than this, their tenth album, the San Francisco band have found a resoundingly appealing way to merge their obvious affections for the bizarre with a solid glam-rock sheen. More importantly: the album is compulsively listenable and there is nary a bit of fat to be found. Bluntly put: this may be the most listener-friendly Deerhoof has ever been.

Yet for all its ease to fall into Deerhoof vs. Evil still is unable to bypass the single aspect that has always lent a facile air to each of Deerhoof's records. While the band itself has never seemed particularly uninspired (quite the opposite in fact, they are proven workhorses) the training-wheels one must apply when dealing with the band's albums do more to circumvent your enjoyment as opposed to keeping their records upright. They have, for the lack of a better phrase, never been able to break the we-make-whimsically-unconventional-arty-punk mold they set for themselves. This, along with Runners, Reveille and Apple O are without question solid albums more than worth your time and money spent and as a live band one will be hard pressed to find a better act than Deerhoof. Yet this does not diminish the fact that there's always some tick, some moment on each album, where you can't help but exclaim: “Abuuuh?”

A simple chord progression, pitch change, synth line, stray reverb or yelped vocals—any array of possibilities arise and the band have still not quite managed to get the formula quite right. But they have come damn close and to be fair no one is really making music quite like Deerhoof so in truth there isn't much to use in comparison of quality. With that being said, I'm just going to start playing Deerhoof's vs. Evil again. Because while it may not be ground breaking or completely, one-hundred percent life changing—it is a damn fun record and a sure sign that another ten albums from Deerhoof would be a welcome turn of events.

1. Qui Dorm, Només Somia
2. Behold a Marvel in the Darkness
3. The Merry Barracks
4. No One Asked to Dance
5. Let's Dance the Jet
6. Super Duper Rescue Heads!
7. Must Fight Current
8. Secret Mobilization
9. Hey I Can
10. C'Moon
11. I Did Crimes for You
12. Almost Everyone, Almost Always

San Francisco’s Deerhoof mixes sugary melodies and an experimental spirit into sweetly challenging and utterly distinctive music.

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