You can unpack whole trunks full of adjectives trying to describe Deerhoof, whose twelfth album, Breakup Song, is out this week. Interview magazine made a valiant attempt with “perennially thrilling avant-pop.” But really, you should just listen to the new album (streaming here) and then come back and read about the slow course — and bumpy liftoff — of my Deerhoof love affair.
San Francisco, 199?: I went to see a bro-band play an early set in the Mission. The bar was tiny, dark, and sweaty, and the headliner churned out so many frequencies of tear-inducing, pants-plastering feedback that a friend turned to me and said, “I THINK MY BRAIN IS BLEEDING.” Turns out that was Deerhoof, but when I saw them again, at a dance studio in Santa Cruz, they were almost unrecognizable. This time, I noticed the the way the singer calmly laid pure pentatonic melody over the stuttering chaos; the way the drummer, all elbows, knees and hair, produced jet-engine sounds out of his tiny kit. (I’d heard he practiced by bashing away at couch cushions.) Less deafening, more breathtaking.
This was the Deerhoof I came to know over the next decade. Every time, they were more locked, more effortless in their ability to juggle brainworm pop hooks, ridiculously burly rock guitars, fragments snatched up from all over the world, bursts of noise. It came together somehow, crackling between the poles of the demure singer and the frenetic drummer. (Wisely, they’re usually set across the stage from each other.) At shows from Echo Park to (L)PR, I saw mouths hanging open and shoulders lurching along with the music, which often feels like the aural equivalent of tripping and catching yourself just in time.
A few years ago, I was at a Fashion Week dinner party, seated across fromAnnie Clark. The only talking point that really took off (aside from my girlfriend announcing that she wanted a fat puppy named Burrito) was Deerhoof’s latest album, Offend Maggie. Faces lit up. Clark and I said, almost in unison, “Monster riffs.”
Greenpoint, 2012: About a dozen of us gathered at the colonnade in McGolrick Park, just before sunset. We had answered a call to appear in the video for the Breakup Song song “Fete d’Adieu.” Led by the singer, we drifted in and out of frame, slowly dancing as if with invisible ballroom partners. In no time, a pack of local kids had gathered at the other end of the plaza. Brawny kids, with shaved heads and scooters. I danced my way to the back of the shot, trying to ignore the shouts: first, “Get the fuck out of our park!” then “You. Are. GAY! You. Are. GAY!” and finally “WE HATE YOU!” Fortunately, a few of them turned out to be closet-thespians; you can see them in the finished video.
Fifteen years after that night in the Mission, Deerhoof still surprises me every time. Half of the band lives in Brooklyn now; spotting one of them on the street sometimes makes me forget which coast I’m on, and which decade it is. Most important, they make me feel happy in a way that few bands can. (Fugazi and Gwar are the only ones that come to mind.) So I guess what I'm saying is, don't worry too much about Deerhoof-appropriate descriptors, especially their own. Breakup Song? Not unless you enjoy romantic dinners set to the sweet sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten.
Image: Sarah Cass, facebook.com/deerhoof