Music Reviews
Breakup Song

Deerhoof Breakup Song

(Polyvinyl) Rating - 8/10

By now, you’d think that Deerhoof were beginning to experience some fatigue after taking a new approach with every record they’ve put out for over fifteen years. As far as creativity goes, the San Francisco foursome has never felt any opposing threat except their very own, constantly immersing themselves in the irrational and vying against conventionalism, their biggest and only nemesis. Or so they’ve lead many to think – as heretical as they may seem, they’ve undertaken the challenge to diversify with such discipline that, in truth, it has only magnified their eccentricities. The aim never was to be strange, but rather to stretch out the limits of pop music as far as it can go.

Changing the perception of what pop music is may seem unlikely, not to mention that the proposition is far from novel. But Deerhoof proved themselves up to the task from the moment that they started, and they steadfastly believe it is the one element that binds their entire trajectory. They’ve made it okay for others to refute the standard procedures followed in the top 40 agenda, and they continue to influence a crop of artists that have flirted with the lower rung of the charts even if their possibility of ever achieving this is conclusively low. And that’s fine – it was never up for debate. If anything, their last release, Vs. Evil, was far too confounding and sonically meddlesome, poorly constructed as a jumble of choppy discordance that lacked a memorable tune.

Vs. Evil was a worrisome indicator of the weakening of a band that has otherwise gone strong for over a decade. Deerhoof have never been ones to rest on their laurels, so it’s no surprise that Breakup Song continues their streak of releasing an album per year. And once the jarring, hyperactive opener kicks into gear, they’re officially back in business, with an overdriven, shrieking guitar that’s offbeat enough to instantly capture your attention. There’s That Grin follows suit with an all-purpose toolkit ready in hand – it starts with a fuzzy guitar pogoing over a chiming kazoo accentuating every measure, warming up before it charges into a frantic finish that suffuses all these together; it’s appropriate that Satomi Matsuzaki intones in her usual impassive delivery: not all at once.

Though not directly implied, Breakup Song later goes into a stretch of jerky experimentalism that effectively deconstructs their idea of playing like pop-minded music programmers. But Deerhoof are merely interpreters, converting the voice of the FM airwaves with their own idiosyncratic language. The glitchy, agitated Bad Kids to the Front gets close to answering the question of how a Skrillex track would sound like as interpreted by the Knife; the sublime psychedelia of Flower provides a lightly syncopated groove taken straight out of the Dust Brothers’ well-thumbed manual; and Matsuzaki – who actually makes an effort to test out her vocal range -  lets out her inner Kylie Minogue in the euphoric, Rio-style carnival that is Mario's Flaming Whiskers III. But the most sharply defined influence comes from the smoldering sounds of Cuban dance music, as heard in the Trouble With Candyhands, which has traces of cha-cha-cha with a suave percussive rhythmic flair. At first glance, the disparity between both schools of sound may not fit, except that it makes perfect sense – the cha-cha-cha may stay locked to a 4/4 beat unlike Deerhoof’s odd time signatures, yet both benefit from their natural, complex polyrhythms like distant kindred brothers.

Just like with any Deerhoof record, trying to make any logical sense out the band’s propensity for surreal imagery and rickety song structures is irrelevant. What’s astonishing about Breakup Song is how it maintains an intuitive notion of coherence, even with its handling of contradictions. All the while making it look easy. The album ends at its most levelheaded with Fete d’Adieu, in which a twinkling, luminous guitar melody has them performing a pop record on their own terms instead of capturing the technique of others. Whether or not the decision to take this approach all the way through Breakup Song was purely conscientious, seeing them go off the beaten path once again, and with such amusement, is undeniably contagious. And that in itself is a greater triumph than ever making it in the charts.