Deerhoof Deerhoof vs. Evil(Polyvinyl) Buy it from Insound
There's no question that Deerhoof is an inimitable, delightful and unstoppable record-churning force in the music industry. Constantly developing without straying from their signature sound, a paradoxical combination of inaccessible quirkiness and earworm-inducing hooks, the San Francisco foursome has developed an impressive discography over the years. With the switch over to Polyvinyl from Kill Rock Stars, I expected a new direction, maybe something more heavily produced or just a slightly different approach to the usual instantly recognizable twee. Instead, Deerhoof vs. Evil is somewhat frustrating in its rehashing of old themes; it's simultaneously too much and too little.
Sadly, too many songs on the album are forgettable -- something that is truly out of the ordinary for Deerhoof. This is the band with some of the catchiest hooks in all popdom, but the majority of the tracks lack the euphoric riffs that overpower the rest of their oeuvre, most notably Apple O'. What gives Deerhoof vs. Evil such a disjointed feeling (and yes, I realize "disjointed" and "Deerhoof" basically go hand in hand) is that these exciting musical bits make just enough cameos to tantalize... but ultimately there's no follow-through. Behold a Marvel in the Darkness is an excellent example. Satomi Matsuzaki's saccharine vocals enter in a pleasing if repetitive manner, and the track lilts along in a slightly aggravating loop until we get the tiniest taste of a promising electric guitar riff. It's just a few bars, and it never culminates the way the song seems to imply that it should. It's a sonic tease.
Deerhoof seems to have two modes, both of which have fit together seamlessly up until now. There's no harm in backing away from the increasingly rock-heavy tendencies of Friend Opportunity (and to a lesser extend, Offend Maggie), but until Deerhoof vs. Evil, the group seems to have been perfecting the oddly fluid mixture of adorable weirdness and straight rock'n'roll. This latest release seems to separate the two -- occasionally literally going back and forth between one and the other from measure to measure -- and the result is not entirely successful. They've reigned in both styles when they should have been pushing their boundaries.
A few songs definitely get it right. On the twee side, Super Duper Rescue Heads! is immediately lovable. "Me... to the rescue/me... to the rescue/how long, how long/you lucky so-and-so," sings Matsuzaki in all her lip-biting cuteness. It's uplifting and hits the spot. On the rock side, The Merry Barracks is beat-heavy and pushes the envelope just enough to satisfy. It's familiar ground, but well-paced in its slightly erratic stops and starts, electronic sound bites and soft melody over a steady beat from a distorted guitar. If the entire album had leaned in this direction, it would feel much fuller. As it stands, Deerhoof seems to have lost its footing a bit with this one.