(Kill Rock Stars; 2008)
By Mark Abraham | 21 October 2008
It seems to me it would be more than a little condescending for me to say, “now this is more like it!”—as if Deerhoof exists totally to please me. Instead, I’ll say that where last’s year’s good-but-kind-of-disappointing Friend Opportunity wasted too much time awkwardly grafting electronic flourishes onto simplified song structures, Offend Maggie spends all of its time highlighting all the things I absolutely love about Deerhoof. And also I’ll say that while I don’t think the solution to the issues I had with Friend Opportunity was to doff the electronic stuff altogether, that’s essentially what the band has done with their new album; the result is a series of songs that revel in the glorious space between Reveille (2002), The Runners Four (2005), and King Crimson. Or something like that. Which, fine, is the long way of saying, “now this is more like it!”
A lot of the difference here lies in the way Deerhoof is flaunting their outsider status again. It has been a really strong year for off-beat pop pleasure, and I find Offend Maggie to be more gratifying as a pop album than the arguably more commercial Friend Opportunity precisely because it sees the band playing around with the Deerhoof formula, rather than trying to play Deerhoof into something else. Some may see this as a retreat, perhaps, but I’d argue that Offend Maggie is possibly Deerhoof’s most ambitious album yet, updating the awesome mania of Reveille with a weight that album was too busy joying around to really have. Certainly, the addition of Ed Rodriguez as a second guitarist adds a heft to the sound of the band that the electronics on Friend Opportunity attempted to replace, but the songs are also noticeably looser and live. Listen to the lithe yet thudding breakdown that ends “Snoopy Waves,” like a linebacker doing a graceful tumbling routine; it’s the perfect example of how Offend Maggie sees the band splitting the difference between the intricacies of Reveille and the rock of The Runners Four.
So is this just Deerhoof’s prog album? Those big prog-pop opuses of the 1970s do sort of ping off this stuff, though it’s not like Deerhoof is suddenly ELO or anything. But the title track is a rush of acoustic guitars and wonderfully counter-intuitive melodies. “Buck and Judy,” one of the best tracks in the Deerhoof catalogue, is a rush of arpeggios and brief squalls of feedback tottering on a steady distorted 1-2 bass pulse. On the other hand, “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” looks back to the playfulness of Reveille and Apple O while “My Purple Past” and opener “The Tears and Music of Love” rock out. More than any other Deerhoof album, we cover a lot of ground, both picking from the band’s back catalog and moving forward to a vision of a Deerhoof that can drop an emotional and musical wallop like this and not still be treated like the cutesy indie-sideshow that has been their niche.
In short, this is not only more like it—this is possibly Deerhoof’s best album, lingering nostalgia issues with Reveille aside. Greg Saunier’s drum work is some of the most interesting he’s ever done. John Dietrich and Rodriguez play beautifully with and off each other, alternately scrawling thin fuzzed out pencil underlines between vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki’s playful vocals and unleashing torrents of distorted intertwining riffs. And Matsuzaki delivers some incredibly refined melodies, hitting at the unconventional rather than relying on her delivery and grade school phrasings to make less out-there melodies seem odd. All the fun of prog; none of the spotlights on the keyboardist playing a complex etude. All the fun of rock; none of the boneheaded seriousness. All the fun of Deerhoof; all the fun of Deerhoof. Especially when the album rolls into its last few tracks and Dietrich and Rodriguez transform the Crimson chops into something that sounds more like Slint, it’s clear that Deerhoof is drawing clear lines between all kinds of notions of music into a formidable and wonderful whole. Nobody releases albums like this anymore. Deerhoof? I’m back in lurve.