If Michael Scott were an indie rocker, Deerhoof would probably be his favorite band. The improvisation, the unusual melodies and disjointed sound backed by unique, child like vocals make Deerhoof unique among other bands. Yet for all of Deerhoof’s uniqueness, it can be summed up in one word: chaotic.
The aural clash in Deerhoof’s albums is akin to a 50 car pileup on a highway. But somehow, Deerhoof makes this strange combination sound good. On top of that, Deerhoof has yet to release an album not worth listening to – each subsequent album shows Deerhoof’s sound continually maturing and evolving. Deerhoof’s previous albums, Reveille, Apple O’, Milkman, The Runners Four, and Friend Opportunity are all solid yet distinct releases by this San Francisco quartet. Suffice to say, Deerhoof is anything but generic.
Is the new album Offend Maggie similar to Deerhoof’s last album, Friend Opportunity? Or does Deerhoof find its roots in Offend Maggie and revert to its earlier sound? Well, neither. Listeners who thoroughly enjoyed Friend Opportunity will immediately recognize the change in Deerhoof’s sound – less variation in the types of instruments, less upbeat, and a lot more emphasis on guitar. Offend Maggie is more reminiscent of Deerhoof’s older works at some points, yet mostly lacks the harmonic clash that marked songs like "Panda Panda Panda." However, Offend Maggie is still a relatively good album by Deerhoof. It sounds like a compromise between the old and the new – heavier guitar and a more accessible sound.
As always, Satomi Matsuzaki’s child-like voice mixes in an extremely odd way with the instrumentals. I wouldn’t be surprised if Matsuzaki were the voice actor for a Japanese version of Dora the Explorer. Matsuzaki’s voice is probably the deal breaker for many people. For others (myself included), it endears them even more to Deerhoof. The lyrics are almost impossible to discern at certain points in the album, but the merits of the music outweigh the cons of ambiguity. Deerhoof’s uniqueness doesn’t come from the oddity of the vocals; it’s the big mess of everything swirling together that puts Deerhoof on the map.
Although the big, messy, musical clash for which Deerhoof is known is back on this album, it’s definitely toned down compared to earlier works. Right from the beginning, Deerhoof starts off by giving a nice kick to the groin with “The Tears and Music of Love”. The guitar riffs in this song are seriously fun to listen to, yet this song is clearly a departure from Deerhoof’s earlier sound. The sound here is much more polished and streamlined compared to Deerhoof’s previous works. The improvisation, the odd melodies and disjointed sound are all absent in this song. Even Matsuzaki’s vocals take a backseat to the guitar. Although this track is not representative of the album, it definitely represents a shift in Deerhoof’s sound. Despite the heavy guitar in the “The Tears and Music of Love”, the next song “Chandelier Spotlight” changes the mood extremely quickly – more emphasis on Matsuzaki’s vocals and less emphasis on guitar. The next song, “Buck and Judy” is also a big change from the previous two tracks – it’s mellower and incorporates the sounds from a keyboard.
As Offend Maggie progresses, signs of Deerhoof’s earlier sound appear in songs such as in “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back." Matsuzaki’s vocals begin to play a more prominent role and oddities in melodies emerge. Unfortunately, points like these are also disappointing – for example, “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” is fairly repetitive. However, Deerhoof’s increased emphasis on guitar is clear on Offend Maggie – just listen to “My Purple Past”. Additionally, Offend Maggie lacks Deerhoof’s usual plethora of instrumentation. The sequence of tracks is quite odd and lacks the seamless transitions that Friend Opportunity had, which results in a fragmented listening experience. Unlike Friend Opportunity, the guitar is the prima donna of this album and is primarily supported by Matsuzaki and the percussion section. What this does is create a more traditional, classic band construction that is a departure from Deerhoof’s previous albums.
Deerhoof has undoubtedly changed with each subsequent album release. Offend Maggie is one of Deerhoof’s most accessible and most polished records to date, but at what cost? The band has lost a certain quality that made its earlier albums so charming and fun to listen to. The rawness, the magical musical clash and sheer uniqueness that defined Deerhoof’s earlier works all play lesser roles. Offend Maggie fails to do what Friend Opportunity did – it doesn’t seamlessly blend a mainstream sound with creativity. It may not be Deerhoof’s best release, but it definitely marks a change in Deerhoof’s sound.
My favorites are in bold:
1. "The Tears and Music of Love" - 3:58
2. "Chandelier Searchlight" - 3:31
3. "Buck and Judy" - 3:25
4. "Snoopy Waves" - 2:05
5. "Offend Maggie" - 2:02
6. "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back" - 2:36
7. "Don't Get Born" - 0:49
8. "My Purple Past" - 3:49
9. "Family of Others" - 2:47
10. "Fresh Born" - 3:35
11. "Eaguru Guru" - 4:00
12. "This is God Speaking" - 1:15
13."Numina O" - 3:40
14. "Jagged Fruit" - 5:49