So Deerhoof have a new album out, which kind of made us go, “Oh, crap. We still haven’t written about Deerhoof. How did that happen?” Let’s fix that right now, shall we?
Deerhoof is one of those bands that’s tough to pin down. Sometimes they don’t sound that weird at all, or maybe just weird in a cuddly, Cibo Matto sort of way. Other times they just sound like your basic, garden-variety noise-pop band, all distorted guitars and herky-jerky rhythms—more quirky than weird, and not all that different from a zillion other Pitchfork-approved bands (although it must be said, no one does herky-jerky rhythms better than Deerhoof, thanks mainly to the superhumanly awesome drumming of Greg Saunier). But then, just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll smack you upside the head with something truly bizarre. And they’ve been at it for over 15 years. So they finally (belatedly) earn their place here on The Weird List.
In its earliest incarnation, Deerhoof was a bass/drums duo made up of Saunier and Rob Fisk. They arose from the dregs of an ill-fated Bay Area metal band called Nitre Pit. When both of Nitre Pit’s guitarists quit, Saunier and Fisk just carried on as a duo, making an extra cacophonous racket to compensate for the lack of lead instruments. On top of that chaotic early sound they eventually added the childlike shrieks, wails and coos of Satomi Matsuzaki, a recent Japanese immigrant with no musical training. Matsuzaki would ultimately prove to be the band’s secret sauce, learning to become a versatile, creative vocalist and a pretty solid bass player to boot. (Fisk switched to guitar, but eventually left the band in 1999.)
Starting with the Reveille album in 2002, Deerhoof added a new guitarist, John Dieterich, formerly of the math-rockers Colossamite. With Dieterich’s help, Deerhoof’s sound became richer and more melodic, although still pretty wildly experimental. Reveille and its 2003 foll0w-up, Apple O’—their first with second guitarist Chris Cohen—remain the band’s most widely acclaimed albums to date. (Next time you’re talking to a Deerhoof fan, just say the words “Panda Panda Panda” and watch them go completely apeshit.)
These days, Deerhoof’s experimentalism is based less on straight-up noise and more on oddball, art-rock juxtapositions: bubblegum pop melodies over lurching math-rock rhythms, or splashes of jazz-rock noodling interspersed with blasts of punk-rock guitar. “Super Duper Rescue Heads!“, the first single from their latest album, Deerhoof vs. Evil, could almost be mistaken for kitschy J-pop until about the 1:25 mark, when one of those weird math-rocky bridges kicks in. Credit (or blame, depending on who you ask) can probably go in part to new second guitarist Ed Rodriguez, who joined the band in 2008. Rodriguez used to play with Dieterich in Colossamite, and their jammy interplay, while still pretty out there, definitely sounds more like the work of two guys in the same band and less like the barely-held-together chaos that was the hallmark of Deerhoof’s earlier material.
We’re tempted to end with something from the earlier, weirder Deerhoof—”Rat Attack,” maybe, or this live performance of the early track “Flower,” which we think dates from around 2003. And we’re sure the label and publicity folks would much rather we post that “Super Duper Rescue Heads!” video (from their latest, Deerhoof vs. Evil—out now on Polyvinyl Records! Order your copy today!). But instead, we’re going to end with this very 8-bit video for “Buck and Judy” off the 2008 album Offend Maggie. Because, well, it’s awesome. Please enjoy.