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Around the Way: Deerhoof – ‘Breakup Song’ Album Review

Around the Way: Deerhoof – ‘Breakup Song’ Album Review

RUFF RYDERS BEWARE: This is not a hip hop review. No lyrical slinging, booty-shaking, shimmy-shimmy-yaing or any other instance of swaggalicious-related content will go down below. If you need a fix, check out this debate BBC held concerning hip hop. For those in search of new sounds, read on.

A very small list of musical acts can pull in numerous styles, arrange them in a pugnacious manner, and produce a completely pleasing sound. The Bomb Squad’s signature boiling pot of loud, squawking sounds fits this description, as does El-P’s cheesy yet surgical infusion of soundbites, distorted samples and farting basslines.

San Francisco experimental rock band Deerhoof also works in this seeming self-defeating mode, but with a surprisingly connected groove underlying the freakish affair. Breakup Song, their latest release, serves thirty minutes of the most eclectic, disjointed and ultimately fun music this side of the Atlantic.

Not that geography ties into the sort of dust being kicked up by this talented quartet, but there’s a definitely rugged DIY in the way these songs erupt on a predetermined path and abruptly shift routes, as if guitarist/producer John Dieterich suffers from a musical split personality disorder. The title track “Breakup Songs” displays this perfectly as its super-crunchy guitars and drummer Greg Saunier’s banging metallic percussion are swept away for a spacy trampoline of fuzz bounced upon with a tight MPC beat.

Even more obscene is the arrangement on “Bad Kids to the Front,” a glitchy mosh pit of bloops that shamble every which way while singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s clean, accented vocals are sung without a care, even when the instrumentation continues to one-up itself with layer upon layer of texture. (Also, her singing reminds me of “Japanese Boy,” but I don’t know if that’s racist or simply referential. Uh…)

Deerhoof’s aesthetic has been praised and criticized for its constant need to self-alter, much like a histrionic reality star. The caveat, however, is the fact that they do it well, sending listeners on a hour-long smorgasbord of jittery, drum-driven funk, salsa, prog-rock and noise that’s rhythmically chopped in half.

In fact, the only time the album may fail to entertain would be the first listen. Some of these tracks, like the ultra-compressed “To Fly or Not To Fly,” have nearly atonal shifts in sound that come off obnoxious on the first round, but natural on consecutive runs. Also, Matsuzaki’s vocals get lost in the mix a lot, and the lyrics don’t offer much anyway.

But who cares! People who dig the acts mentioned above as well as Ava Luna or even Death Grips’ own brand of sampling sludge can come for Deerhoof’s own set of quirks and rhythms, possibly even willing to peruse the band’s prolific back catalog. Never has a Breakup Song sounded this pleasant — or this abrasive, for that matter.
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