Apple O’ (Kill Rock Stars /5 Rue Christine)
Much has been made of the recent rock ’n’ roll renaissance in pop music, and sure, it’s heartening to know The White Stripes are in heavy rotation on the radio, right up there with Linkin Park and Audioslave. But all these bands who’ve been heralded as some kind of second coming are just that: reincarnations of something that’s come and gone before, whether it’s yet another white-boy/bad-boy take on the blues or an update of ’80s post-punk, to name two current (and fairly appealing) sounds du jour. Rare is the band who can come along and actually re-envision rock ’n’ rollmake it new and exciting, something that goes beyond the reductive, simplistic “rock” tag.
At this point, heralding such a band runs the risk of sounding like ridiculous, high-minded hype, but here goes: Deerhoof are the most exciting rock ’n’ roll band of the moment. Never mind that this Bay Area group have been together since the mid-’90s, or that Apple O’ is their sixth full-length album. As with some of the most influential bands in post-’70s rock history (Minutemen or Sonic Youth, for instance), it’s taken a few records for Deerhoof to develop their sound. Last year, they emerged with Reveille, a concise, accomplished and thrilling album on which all of their strengths coalesced: blazing guitars; thrumming, explosive drums; beguiling, sing-song vocals; charming keyboard embellishments; and an ability to take songs in totally unexpected directions while managing to keep the album entirely of a piece.
Apple O’ continues many of the same ideas explored on Reveille. It’s not quite as jerky and unhinged-feeling, and it doesn’t crackle quite as much, but that doesn’t mean Deerhoof have forsaken their expansive, often surprising way with a song. Like their previous record, this one opens with a flourish and an electrifying burst, as the sound of feedback gives way to the monstrous “Dummy Discards a Heart,” with its layered, singing guitar lines. It’s one of the catchiest moments on the record and serves as maybe the ideal point of entry into Deerhoof’s music.
From there, Apple O’ explores the full range of dynamics: moments of frenetic yet controlled tumult; ambient hums; subtle interactions of drums, guitar and voice that build up, break down, careen sideways and build back up again. It’s some of the most engrossing, playful and original conversation you’ll hear four people engage in.
A huge part of that fascination lies in the lyrics and in bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s sweet, high voice. At first listen, her singing and her words sound simple, childlike, but within these stripped-down lines, recurring motifs and conceits suggest that whole narratives, possibly even the entirety of creation, are contained within. As the album title indicates, apples and fruit play a role, signifying both destruction and regeneration in “Apple Bomb,” which serves as the album’s lyrical centerpiece. Most of the songs, though, zero in on a single image with near-startling directness; in “Panda Panda Panda” and “Flower,” Matsuzaki needs no more than seven or eight words to get her idea across. In another context, these lyrics might seem unsophisticated, but as part of Deerhoof’s music, they have force and powercertainly as much as John Dieterich’s and Chris Cohen’s guitars and Greg Saunier’s drumming.
The album closes with two beautiful images. In the penultimate track, “Adam+Eve Connection,” a pair of lovers are united down to their very atoms, despite (or maybe because of) humanity’s fall from grace. In the last song, “Blue Cash,” a child is caught up in the purest of earthly joys while reaching for her mother in the heavens. Music, it turns out, unites these separate worlds, the opposing yet related impulses of pain, pleasure and transcendence. “Play on your harp string and soar,” Matsuzaki sings. “Play on your heart string it’s sore.”
On earlier Deerhoof records like Holdypaws and The Man, The King, The Girl, it’s possible to hear some of the same garage-band influences currently holding sway with other bands at the moment. But even here, there’s something clearly unusual at work, a push and pull between melody and dissonance. It’s like listening to the 1910 Fruitgum Co. or Ohio Express, but with the guitars on max distortion, or the vacuum cleaner running. Even though the lineup has changed some since thenwith Matsuzaki and Saunier remaining the constantsthis is clearly the same group we hear on Apple O’. The difference is that they’ve gotten more comfortable, more nimble with each other, more able to work in any number of far-ranging musical ideas, from classic rock quotations to craftily assembled samples to supple, jazzy rhythms.
Considering some of the content on the new record, it’s hard to imagine that events of the last couple years haven’t also somehow weighed on these musicians. When they look at a plant or an animal or a human being, they see both something wonderful and something capable of being obliterated, whether at the hands of people or at the hands of something much greater, something cosmic. This idea, in part, fires the complexity of their music, but it’s largely contained within the notes and the beats and the elusive lyrics, and not rendered in the form of an obvious statement. Maybe this is what makes Deerhoof sound so utterly of the moment: In their miniature epics, they capture all the beauty, the intricacy and the horror of what it means to be human.
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....
Indianapolis (CA-35), not Indiana.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…