Apparently last year’s Friend Opportunity wasn’t friendly enough, or maybe it was too friendly. Whatever the case may have been, Deerhoof try for the best of both worlds on that album’s follow-up, Offend Maggie. The band continues to embrace its new-found accessibility while reviving some of the sprawling ambition of its 2005 epic The Runners Four. Now, I’m not sure who this Maggie person is or what she has done to provoke these guys, but I’m curious to know what she thinks of this new batch of songs, as they don’t offend so much as challenge, confound and ultimately astonish.
Theoretically conceived as two separate “acts,” Maggie plays surprisingly well when taken in as a whole. Unlike previous efforts where Deerhoof sounded like they were consciously trying (and succeeding) to push themselves, much of the songs here sound remarkably effortless, almost reflexive in their quality and consistency. The band’s trademark eclecticism is still very much in tact, but reveals itself in a far smoother fashion.
For example, rather than crashing to a jarring halt as it may have on albums past, the muscular propulsion of opener “The Tears and Music of Love” softly segues into the sweet shuffle of “Chandelier Searchlight,” a number that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Breeders’ Pod. The first half of the album follows a similar trajectory, ebbing and flowing both within and between songs before climaxing with album apex “My Purple Past,” a formidable usurper to the “Matchbook Seeks Maniac” title as Deerhoof’s best individual song. Patient yet commanding, the guitars and electric piano swell as Satomi Matsuzaki sings a simultaneously quirky and haunting narrative about a cowboy and sailor who seem to swap identities.
That crest alone would be enough to end an album on, but Maggie is a generous dame and has a whole second act to enjoy. Originally released as sheet music for fans to record for themselves over the summer, “First Born” still manages to surprise in spite of myriad “covers” on the web, beginning as a lovely chime before changing abruptly into to a playful shimmy. Meanwhile, the pair of songs that close the album – “Numina O” and “Jagged Fruit” – each take a page out of Sonic Youth’s playbook, the former with its Dirty pop melody and the latter with a droning dirge that frustratingly recalls Opportunistic afterthought “Look Away” (the last album’s only misstep) before simmering to life with a snarling cacophony of guitars.
Speaking of guitars, Ed Rodriguez proves a worthy, if not necessarily equal, successor to the dearly departed Chris Cohen. As for the veteran players, Greg Saunier’s percussion continues to explore new subtleties while the aforementioned Matsuzaki has never sounded better or sweeter. The lyrics she sings range from clever (the telemarketing as metaphor for unrequited love in the title track) to literal (her cheerleading in “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back”) to head-scratching (how many times does she have to ask “Buck and Judy” about that damned fruit?).
As with all past Deerhoof efforts, you’ll either love it or you won’t. For every song that can potentially convert the skeptics (pretty much any of the above), there will be one that fuels the argument that they’re simply experimental for experimental sake (“This is God Speaking”). But the rest of us who were wise enough to jump on their opportunity for friendship will only love them more for these minor flaws. We know better, and so do Deerhoof. They may not be actively seeking new friends this time around, but that doesn’t mean they won’t readily reward them.
Hear the new material live as Deerhoof embarks on a national tour beginning in October through mid-November before heading across the Atlantic for a series of European dates in early December.
01. The Tears and Music of Love
02. Chandelier Searchlight
03. Buck and Judy
04. Snoopy Waves
05. Offend Maggie
06. Basket Ball Get Your Groove back
07. Don’t Get Born
08. My Purple Past
09. Family of Others
10. Fresh Born
11. Eaguro Guro
12. This Is God Speaking
13. Numina O
14. Jagged Fruit
Written by: Rob Huff