Sat Aug 30
"Simple is the basics. Deerhoof starts with simple, and if there are any songs that sound not-simple, I think it's just that it turned out complicated." This is what Deerhoof singer/bass player Satomi Matsuzaki tells me about their music, and it seems obvious enough. Deerhoof started out with simple, and ended up complicated. Because the SF art-rock band pulls together the avant-garde with the populist, the arty with the pop hook, the "improv freak-outs" with the "nursery rhyme-esque singalongs," their guitar pop music is a sublime example that starting with simple is indeed the best way to end up complicated. Of course!
I ask them to describe the sound of their own music, and drummer Greg Saunier replies, "What a funny question! Deerhoof songs are like a description of how they sound. If you hear a recording, it's a kind of description of a live performance. Or sometimes the concert is a description of the recording." Perhaps the best way to illustrate their mysterious guitar blasts, tambourine-laden kickdrums, and chirpy, staccato soprano vocals--in which Matsuzaki tries to sound "like a trumpet"--is through onomatopaeias (Boom. Blossom. Burst.), because their lyrics are largely figurative and onomatopaeic. The lyrics on their recent release Apple O'--the best pop record since Deerhoof's last album, Reveille--contains a lush assortment of organic themes: pandas, kudzu vines ("Love it or hate it, it grows on you"), trees, flowers, and apples, which seem to unfurl into larger notions of love, forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve. (When I note these connections, Saunier encourages, "Anything you can find that makes things come together like that is happy news. Many parts mirror other parts. Keep going, use your imagination!")
There's also loneliness, as on the track "Apple Bomb," where Matsuzaki sings about the rare tree Encephalartos Woodii:
"Just like me/ Final tree/ You're lovely/ But you're lonely/ I will clone thee. "
Extinct in the wild, only about 500 specimen of Encephalartos Woodii exist in the world, all of them grown by botanists from the last remaining four. It might be obvious to analogize a rare tree and a rare band, but I'm gonna do it anyway: Deerhoof are one of the two or three bands I can think of who not only make a truly unique kind of guitar-based rock music, but also who is loved by EVERYONE I know.
Dudes who only listen to Mind Flayer, dudes who only listen to Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, dudes who only listen to King Sunny Ade; most of my friends are gigantic music nerds, and every single one of them freaks their shit over Deerhoof's visceral guitar melodies and birdy vocals. Madonna fronts like she's the great unifier between bourgeoisie and rebel, but it's Deerhoof that actually shows up with the goods--uniting refined music obsessive with proletariat pop lover, letting childlike beauty exist with intellectual compulsions.
Matsuzaki sings about apples and teen pop and bombs in arty rhythms, and we can all wax philosophical on the grand scope of their lyrical content and the meaning of their crescendoing, improvised guitar solos. But really we love them because they make us feel like we're five years old, and we're gonna dance however we damn well please. Matsuzaki DOES dance however she wants, moving her arms and pointing her toes onstage in the same manner of a ginger cheerleader. She says, "I think [my] dance moves work with the music like a simple machine--[in] unison with the music, and they [accentuate] the notes." Put on your smart shoes, and dance accents to Deerhoof's terrific music.