Release Date 09/17/2008
(Kill Rock Stars)
Sure, the press has made much of their audacity and their originality. But let's face it - the truth about Deerhoof is that people actually like listening to them. A lot. There's something uniquely charming about their songcraft, and something magic about their playing, that fills a need no other band can fill.
Ultimately Deerhoof is not about notes and rhythms, but about emotion. And while Offend Maggie sparkles with that inimitable something-or-other for which the band's become known, what this record wears on its sleeve so boldly and poignantly, is its stark humanness: of the characters in the lyrics, of the singer in front of the mic, of the band bashing it out in a room together.
Like its cover art Offend Maggie is half-naked, creating tension through negative space. Fans around the globe who've seen how powerfully they play on stage will recognize the Deerhoof they hear on Offend Maggie: all fingers and arms and throats and muscles, physical, at times beautiful, at times brutal. Another way of putting it is that Deerhoof sounds more like "themselves" than they ever have.
Satomi's calligraphic vocal style has never been rendered with greater elegance. And the "group instinct" of this well-tuned performing unit is palpable right from the first bar. This de-mechanized dance music of theirs remains wild, intense, and fiercely anti-authoritarian. For them, punk's DIY ethic has always gone beyond a fad or convenience. It's a career-spanning philosophy of making something from nothing. It's inspiring as much as it's inspired.
Deerhoof has that Brian Wilsonian gift for communicating, even with the barest of rock and roll provisions, every shading of their lyrics. On Offend Maggie a friction between tragic and comic, masculine and feminine, is played out in spectacularly dramatic fashion. This famously cheerful band can certainly summon the thunder-clouds when needed. Like the traditional enka music of Japan that Satomi counts among her childhood influences, these songs are often haunted by heartbreak and frustration, but at the same time they're universal, and meant to give courage to the listener.
"Chandelier Searchlight" is a genuine pop gem, somehow simultaneously light and brash, giddy and apprehensive. The protagonists of "My Purple Past" are sonically portrayed with a swaggering, but bruised, machismo. The bossa-noise skit "This Is God Speaking" cranks its self-aggrandizement to the point of absurdity. In the jazzy "Numina" we feel we are spiraling, bewitched, into a maze-like nightmare.
Often the music adds its own ironic counterpoint to the lyrics: Though innocent-looking enough on paper, "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back" is performed with Deerhoofian black humor, Satomi sounding almost like a Japanese Kimya Dawson. "Buck and Judy" hints at an undertone of malevolence lurking beneath the ostensibly mundane. "Eaguru Guru" likens the USA to a blustering bully, even as the music seems to insinuate a different superpower.
And the title track, some impossible channeling of New Wave, Pete Townsend, and Ali Farka Toure, is insouciantly tossed off like it was nothing at all. Like the whole album, it seems to want you to stop and hang out in it for a while. This is their "feel" record, loose and funky and deliciously rough around the edges. Indeed, if last year's Friend Opportunity was much of the world's first restless handshake with Deerhoof, Offend Maggie finds them inviting us into their basement with flashlights and showing us pictures of the ones they love.