Deerhoof is one of the coolest bands around. They’ve been making some of the most exciting, consistently excellent music since the turn of the millenium. They are now a trio, having amicably parted ways with one of their guitarists, Chris Cohen, since their critically well-received 2005 album, The Runners Four. With that album they made a bit of a departure from the abrasive, noisy, abstract sound of their previous several albums towards accessibility and songiness. Friend Opportunity takes them further down that accessible rock road. Normally I might complain about that kind of shift, being as how I’m a sucker for quirky musical experimentation, but Deerhoof haven’t become less interesting as they’ve become more accessible and Friend Opportunity is just too good to complain about.
Note, I said they’ve become more accessible. They’ve reigned in some of their more abrasive and experimental tendencies, but they’re still far from mainstream—the final track is a spacey, minimalist 12-minute track. And there’s still one enormous barrier that most people will have to come to terms with before they can enjoy Deerhoof: vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki’s heavy Japanese accent and almost cartoonish singing.
Matsuzaki was a barrier for me. The first time I heard Deerhoof I had a pretty strong negative reaction to the vocals. I couldn’t tell if it was a man singing really high falsetto or if it was supposed to be a joke or what. It was shrill and off key and just weird—the kind of singing that might be featured on the freak show episodes of American Idol. But the music, with the hyperactive drumming, the guitars that abrubtly shifted between plucking the melody along with the vocals (a Deerhoof signature absent from Friend Opportunity) and earth-shaking riffage, and the various screeches and beeps and other noises, was so exciting that I couldn’t stop listening. Before I knew it I had four Deerhoof albums and I was in love. And Matsuzaki’s singing, which I had previously considered a liability, had become to me an indespensible, integral part of the awesomeness that is Deerhoof.
Ironically, after the loss of a guitarist, on Friend Opportunity Deerhoof sound bigger than ever. Not louder; bigger. This is mostly a consequence of the slick production and the addition of a lot of keyboards, which they use in a way that is reminiscent of the playful adventurousness of the Fiery Furnaces, but with discipline and groove.
What strikes me most listening to Friend Opportunity is that these are musicians that just have great instincts. Almost very decision strikes me as just right. The songs are always engaging, always moving forward, never stagnating, and unlike the overlong The Runners Four the same can be said of Friend Opportunity as a whole. The opening track, “Perfect Me,” which has more key and time signature changes than I can keep track of, sounds like the soundtrack to the rockinest horror film you can imagine. On that track, Greg Saunier’s drumming shifts from spastic to simple and back again as the song moves through several distinct sounds and feelings. The rest of the album is similarly varied. From the rockin’ “+81,” to the pretty (if you can acquire a taste for Matsuzaki’s voice) “Whither the Invisible Birds,” to the playful “Kidz Are So Small,” to the avant garde “Look Away,” Friend Opportunity is a lot of fun in a lot of ways.
I’ll post three of the best Friend Opportunity songs to the radioblog, as well as the first Deerhoof song I ever heard, “Dummy Discards a Heart,” from their 2003 album Apple O’. Check it out.