I'll probably get myself in trouble for saying that I think Offend Maggie is Deerhoof's best project yet. While many critics have been quick to point out that the band has settled into a pattern of similar-sounding experimental music after 10 albums, this project brings a kind of lightness and optimism that is quite new for them. Many of their previous efforts have necessitated the listener have a certain, shall we say, sonic open-mindedness.
It's hard to gauge how the lifers will respond, both to this more melodic Deerhoof and to the more trendy fans it is likely to spawn. The songs on Offend Maggie are generally much less aggressive -- many sublime, and some even danceable. And the emotion on these albums is put in a more relatable musical context, while of course still maintaining the dissonance and experimentation that has gotten them to where they are.
Despite any subtle or even more substantial changes, there still is no experience quite like listening to a Deerhoof song. Discussing originality or novelty in the context of a Deerhoof album is quite futile, and I think a lot of critics (myself included) still have trouble critiquing something that is not so much musically unique as a redefinition of aural pleasure. Offend Maggie brings this to a new, easier to reach level.
The first song on the album, "The Tears and Music of Love," starts with a powerful, rhythmic guitar line and vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki quickly begins her forcefully adorable treatment of a mostly tonal melody. But classic Deerhoof comes through as they chop every forth measure in half, creating a kind of hiccup in the rhythm.
Another highlight of the album, "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back," literally made me giggle the first time I heard it because of its silly lyrics (repeat of words like "b-ball" and "rebound" and something that sounds like "bunny jump") and the childlike combination of the rhythm and melody. This song as well as others on the record really treat the voice as a percussion instrument as much as a melodic one, which creates a fantastic mood and drive.
I won't dwell on this next point, but I'm seeing a pattern in indie music where fans are much more apt to gravitate toward gibberish and/or languages they do not understand. Of course, the bands that make such music, are often fronted by voices radiant enough to overcome any lyrical deficiencies, as is the case with Matsuzaki. But I wonder how far this trend can go before people start yearning for a good poem again.
The song "Family of Others" is certainly one of the more oddball tracks on the album. It begins with noisy dissonance and soon a kind of bizarre modern vocal counterpoint comes in, only to quickly change again into a lighthearted acoustic tune. It's one of the most disjointed songs on the album, as if the band didn't think each segment warranted its own song, so they magically formulated a way to sew them together. It works, but that's just how Deerhoof does it.
This is the music theory nerd in me talking, but I have to wonder how formulated these odd harmonies and dissonances are. It's possible that they just come out of the band naturally, without much calculation. That seems most likely, considering how laborious it would be for any band to figure out that a C# thirteenth flat nine chord works for a particular section of a song. But the musical sensibility that allows for extreme dissonance and arhythm while still making the music listenable is precisely why Deerhoof is still around, and still surprising us.
Deerhoof will return to the Bay Area for a show at the Mezzanine on November 15, 2008.
Emily Logan is the News Editor for The Bay Bridged.