Deerhoof formed in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2005 that this San Francisco art-rock outfit released their most consistently enjoyable album, The Runners Four. That’s because the group made a conscious effort to collaborate equally without compromising the group’s individual strengths: drummer Greg Saunier’s nuanced, shit-kicking beats; guitarists Chris Cohen and John Dietrich’s intertwining, razor-sharp avant-garde licks; and most importantly, frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki’s disaffected, squeaky chirps, and occidentally challenged lyrics about “ditties of no tone” and “a troubled team of little lemons.”
That last image turned out to portend actual trouble—Cohen left the group last May to focus on his other project, the Curtains. Despite paring down to a trio, Deerhoof have fared rather well. (It’s made their live show impressively lean.) But their latest doesn’t pack the out-of-nowhere melodic turns that enlivened Runners. “Less art, more rock,” seems to be the game plan. Of course, the biggest impediment to, you know, “getting it” is Matsuzaki’s voice: high, thin, and ambivalent to pitch, even though most of the time she’s right on. Like those on 2003’s Apple O (a loose concept record about the “Adam+Eve Connection”), Matsuzaki’s lyrics on Friend Opportunity often evoke the whimsical children’s poetry of Shel Silverstein, especially on the free-for-all fete located “over the mountains and under the ocean” (on “The Perfect Me”) and the deliberately stupid electro-rap about man and canine (which powers “Kidz Are So Small”). Sometimes, on cuts like “Believe E.S.P.,”she’s content to just go bananas: “Paranoia boogie woogie come to ooze paranoia boogie woogie come to ooze.” Absurdity aside, the tunes that resonate are those that examine the absence or corruption of friendship. It’s also where the hooks are hanging out. The dizzying pace of “+81” bolsters Matsuzaki’s observations on a cosmopolitan Asian life made empty by technology: “The building from the side to side/All over cell-phone talkers need chitchat/So many many people trying hard to climb over the floor.” And next to the Runners Four track “Twin Killers,” this record’s “Matchbook Seeks Maniac” might very well be the most pop-friendly song Deerhoof have ever penned—a straightforward Brill Building-style beat anchors heavy organs and a monster riff, proving that Dietrich is doing just fine as the sole guitarist. While Opportunity isn’t Deerhoof’s most exciting outing, surely they’ve got plenty more tricks up their sleeves.
Deerhoof plays Irving Plaza with Busdriver
January 26, irvingplaza.com