Break it easy

By DANIEL DENORCH  |  October 17, 2008

Of course, many of the quintessentially Deerhoofian gestures remain: the melodies still come in at odd angles; Matsuzaki’s free-floating mewl is still front and center; every now and then a megawatt riff kicks in and sets everything straight. (That’s their oldest trick, and one they never shy away from.) Matsuzaki’s lyrics are still the non-sequitur poesy that have made the band a target of criticism. And though her subjects are left-field — there’s “Buck and Judy,” a cowboy take on the tale of Adam and Eve, and “My Purple Past,” which stars a sailor who rides horses — it’s not all tea leaves: in “Eaguru Guru,” a fidgety, harried reading of American politics can be snatched from Matsuzaki’s nervous tone and the scurrying guitar lines.

Saunier’s moonlighting as mixer and producer for the spasmodic, genre-twisting Xiu Xiu and for Matsuzaki’s side project, Oneone, proved a boost for the Offend Maggie sessions. The high-gloss production techniques that bubbled up in Reveille and permeated The Runners Four are in full force here, with every sound bristling and cooing at the right spots. “What I picked up from Jamie Stewart is sheer speed,” he says of his work with the Xiu Xiu frontman. “Everything’s on impulse with him — if I start mumbling something from the back of the room about maybe overdubbing a bass part, he’s got the bass hooked up before my sentence is even finished. I really learned a lot from that, that level of self-trust and also trust of everyone there, whatever idea they might have. Deerhoof is so much more shy, we’re always ashamed to show or tell our ideas, so everything moves at a snail’s pace by comparison.” Matsuzaki corroborates, pointing out that even as the cover art came in, the track list was being ordered and reordered. “We changed the song order million times. We do that every album, but this time we did even more.”

If slow-moving, Deerhoof are also ultra-absorbent, pulling sounds from just about anywhere and out of just about anything. (Matsuzaki relates of a recent tour date: “Our friend opened for us and played udon (Japanese flour noodle). . . . It didn’t make much sound except when she slams it once in a while. Good sounds.”) The guitars of Rodriguez and John Dieterich spew licks from several different genres, often within the space of the same song, moving from starlit arpeggios to twiny, post-punk lines in the span of seconds (“Fresh Born”). This stylistic fluency lies in the blinder-off view they take of music. Saunier: “I’ve never believed there was really a difference between art and pop music. Our songs sound like pop music when we play on electric guitars, but they would sound like classical music if you played them on violins. Maybe if you played it on saxophones it would sound like jazz.” And for a band who’ve always abided by the two-minute track, they’ve experimented with even more minute structures. The daffy “This Is God Speaking,” a song not much longer than your average TV commercial spot, features Matsuzaki jabbering into a PA over porcelain tinkles and, very possibly, an udon-esque thump. At the outset of the self-reflexive “Don’t Get Born,” Matsuzaki announces, “30 seconds I will be alive.” Less than a minute later, the song ends, taking its hazy tumbles of guitar with it.

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