Deerhoof - Offend Maggie Review

Deerhoof doesn’t have too many new ideas these days. That’s not to say that their music is uninspired, nor does it say that they’ve become a cookie-cutter outfit churning out more of the same. But you know what to expect. Once a passionately polarizing and truly quirky figure on the indie scene, now we can have vague notions of what the latest LP will be like and be convinced before pressing play that it’s going to be a good time. Even Deerhoof’s less focused and stylized releases (early records like Holdypaws and Koalamagic) had enough unexpected charms to warrant a spin or two. But now that their incongruous modus operandi has become so uniquely them, there’s no reason to anticipate a left-turn recording or be apprehensive that the next album will see a drop off. True, Friend Opportunity was glossier than most of their earlier canon, and The Runners Four more sprawling, but there’s no question who recorded them. Offend Maggie will not surprise any Deerhoof fans, nor will it disappoint.

The band features no shortage of great musicians. Newcomer Edward Rodriguez may not be a flawless replacement for Chris Cohen, but he more than holds his own. John Dieterich amplifies the guitar attack and Greg Saunier is one of the more overlooked and underrated drummers in the biz. But the focal point of Deerhoof will always be Satomi Matsuzaki, who does a fine job with the bass, but is best known for her voice. Some people melt beneath it, others wince. All high-pitched coos, chirps and hurrahs, it’s not to be forgotten. And this time, she sings rather frequently in Japanese.

Don’t be fooled, though. Offend Maggie is one of, if not the, most accessible Deerhoof LP to date. Instead of relying on lurching stop-start guitar explosions and halts, the sonic experiments are smoother, crisper. The melodic fractions are no longer choppy and chaotic; even when they throw a curveball, it rings true with the general melody. And Matsuzaki’s Japanese cheeping isn’t all that noticeable—it was never easy to understand what she was saying anyway, and her broken English phrases were always giddily skewed.

The album is divided in two halves, the first being a more traditional pop side. Limber riffs dominate the first song, “The Tears and Music of Love,” one that is both tangential and always chugging ahead. “Buck and Judy” is another of their Adam-and-Eve songs, propelled by a two-punch/one-step rhythm. “Offend Maggie” begins with an acoustic guitar that sounds like (of all things) staccato bagpipe tweets and emerges as one of the simpler and prettier tracks. “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” is like listening to a particularly weird cheerleading routine—goofy but fun. The half closes on “My Purple Past,” a strong storytelling track that lets the guitar and keys build to a finish that’s both riff-potent and rhythmically jagged.

The second part unfolds with eerie atmospherics, Matsuzaki stepping aside for Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonizing from Dieterich, and undulating guitars that give way to a frantic shuffle (“Friend of Others”). “Fresh Born” is Deerhoof’s interpretation of funk rock, and it has a delicious groove indeed, courtesy of a supple and gigantic bassline along with coiled guitar workouts. “Eaguru Guru” is a prog-ish experiment, perhaps the most musically inventive of the whole bunch, though very listenable despite some abrasive guitar shreds near the halfway point. And “Jagged Fruit” ends the album with an epic of sorts, uncurling itself slowly from an early soft-spoken dirge that becomes noisier (and almost tangibly dangerous) as it grows in shape and ferocity. 

Since Offend Maggie sounds so side-oriented, it’s puzzling as to why the track order is changed for the vinyl version (where “side” albums were born). Listening to it both ways, I actually prefer the pacing of the CD version. But since this is one of Deerhoof’s most song-centric albums, the mood of either half goes undisturbed. It takes the expected detours through brief song snippets (the breezy “Don’t Get Born”; the tuneless, slow-fix freakout, “This Is God Speaking”), but has far fewer of their noodling little gestures that were usually either cute or irritating. But they fit in with the band’s off-kilter dynamic of sugar sweet and lemon sour. The stripped down melodies approach bubblegum at times, but the musical attack can be cacophonic chaos when it wants to be. The unconventional structures are occasionally forbidding but Matsuzaki’s voice is chipper and naïve. Their rhythms are tense, her tone is placid. Deerhoof has been two sides their entire career.

If Offend Maggie is really not much better or worse than any Deerhoof album since Reveille, that’s to be understood. During that span, they’ve dropped six LPs, none perfect and none forgettable. I can’t imagine that they’ll ever release a full-blown masterpiece just like I doubt they’ll ever fumble the ball so badly that I won’t want to listen to it again and again. But in their creative efforts, they’ve managed to find a formula. There are little tweaks here and there, but you know what you’re getting into when you pop in a Deerhoof CD. I wouldn’t want them any other way.

"Offend Maggie" is on sale October 7, 2008 from Kill Rock Stars.

Matt Medlock


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