Deerhoof – The Magic (2016)

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When a band has been around for more than twenty years (if they are fortunate enough to carry on for so long) nostalgia is bound to set in. Indie rock outliers Deerhoof never had a problem getting stuck in a rut when gleefully reversing course is the only true course they’ve taken this whole time. But now they’re looking back at a simpler time for musicians when music was a wonder before it became a dirty business.

That’s pretty much the theme for The Magic, an attempt to make music with the innocence of pre-fame in the sterile environs of a rented office space somewhere in New Mexico, entering this place with no songs and resurfacing seven days later with fifteen in the can. Greg Saunier, the drummer, said the band drew inspiration for these tunes from “what we liked when we were kids — when music was magic — before you knew about the industry and before there were rules.” He further explained that the record reached back to the 80s of their formative years, “alchemies of punk, pop, glam, hair metal, doo-wop, hip hop, and R&B, late-night car rides, long days, attitude and spandex.”

That’s in no way to say that The Magic necessarily recreates A Flock of Seagulls, Tears For Fears or Cyndi Lauper, because Deerhoof can’t really be anything but their enigmatic, offbeat selves. But they can be that way while reclaiming their teenaged identities.

The quartet rips right into the three-minute-and-some-change long “The Devil and His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue” probably imagining they’re in a garage in suburban Ohio rather than a commercial building in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, a dual guitar barrage from Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich with Satomi Matsuzaki’s soft vocal taking only a slight edge off. And then right in the middle, a bright, avant-pop melody interlude interrupts the ruckus, if only for a moment, then a return to it once more before finishing.

One other thing that doesn’t change in this longing look back is the one-two punch of Rodriguez and Dieterich who can get so both jarringly jangly and charmingly chiming, epitomizing the long held duality of this band being simultaneously caustic and seductive. A guitar riff as heavy as AC/DC is mated to a sing-song four note chorus “Kafe Mania!” and a guitar flashing like an alarm a la Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” “Learning To Apologize Effectively” but mated to a more complex melody.

Just as often, the band puts on its after-school garage band pants on and rocks out like they listened to the Kinks a lot more than Madonna: “Dispossessor,” “That Ain’t No Life To Me,” “Plastic Thrills.” And then there are the requisite uncategorizeable cuts — “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire”, “Patrasche Come Back” and “Nurse Me” — that maintain their radical bonafides.

Matsuzaki and Saunier, the only two members from their 1997 debut album The Man, the King, the Girl still in the band, form a deadly effective bass/drums unit that can groove hard, driving songs such as the prowling thump of “Life Is Suffering,” the hard stomp of “Debut” and the Talking Heads circa Remain In Light piece “Model Behavior.”

If a more direct reflection of 80’s rock is what you’d like to hear from Deerhoof, well then there’s a brand new, straight-up cover of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” not found on this album for your viewing pleasure. But this band tends to favor making rock music the makeshift way most rock music was made in the 60s, and the method matters for this music.

When your mind is in the right place, magic can happen anywhere. Even in the remote reaches of New Mexico.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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