DEERHOOF Deerhoof Vs. Evil CD/LP

Deerhoof Vs. Evil was first and foremost a record following what seems to be a now-standard practice, with tracks released for free, one at a time, prior to the record's release. In this particular case, the anticipation method was quite possibly the smartest way—as stand-alone tracks, the newest Deerhoof songs are quirky, charming, musically unorthodox. Much like Deerhoof. When those tracks came together and formed a whole, however, Deerhoof Vs. Evil became top-heavy, a bit disappointing. It is in part the record with the most commercial potential, and in total the most inconsistent with itself.

The record begins with a kooky little number leading into what could almost be Howard Hello's "Giving Up" before turning halfway into hip-hop sung in Catalan. But there's nothing weird about it. And yet, "Super Duper Rescue Heads!" is the most commercial, poppy, and tame track here (with an odd video to boot, starring vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, who points as she sings, "Me to the rescue/Hallo/You lucky so and so").

This album offers variety in the sense that Deerhoof are versatile instrumentalists, but it doesn't feel completely cohesive. The guitars alone are all over the place, drawing from classical, Spanish-style, acoustic approaches to later Rolling Stones to organ-style effects that whiz by. Greg Saunier takes a step back on Deerhoof Vs. Evil, and his drumming is essentially wasted. The record is a chance for the guitars to shine, and they do, but in serving as a spotlight for John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez—even Saunier on guitar—we miss out on the wild drumming typical of a Deerhoof album.

There are emotionless, airy, simple lines sung by Matsuzaki, per usual, and drummer Saunier; dreamy, in the Flaming Lips-style closer "Almost Everyone, Almost Always," and ambiguously humorous, as with "I Did Crimes for You." "This is a stickup/Smash the windows" is awfully cute coming from Matsuzaki, who, at nearly forty, still boasts a voice beyond twee.

And surely, not to be forgotten, is the band's shameless dip into stadium rock now and then. It pops its head into the otherwise girly "Behold a Marvel in the Darkness," and again in "Secret Mobilization," to which the appropriate reaction would be, "Meh. Meh. POWER CHORD WHOA" (at 2:34, with thirty seconds left, as though the song was nearly concluded before the band decided that something ought to happen).

But the record is certainly top-heavy on the whole and around the time of "Super Duper Rescue Heads!" begins to feel as though it's just sort of hanging on. It begins to sound tired. It begins to sound like an obligation of a record from a band that's spent years sweating creativity in sheets until there was little left to pour out. But it also sounds poised to serve as a collection of live songs with filler in between - if instrumental "Let's Dance the Jet" is the point at which band members break down and begin introducing each other, then "Secret Mobilization" is the show's conclusion, which offers that stadium-ready blast of energy in the final moments they're needed. These songs are individual gems and a few even offer enormous—literally enormous—live potential, but they're an incompatible fit for one another and at times even suggest that the band might finally be slowing down. [Polyvinyl]

-China Bialos


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