Near the end of their wonderful, brassy new album, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars), Deerhoof play a little joke on listeners called "This Is God Speaking." Over electronic fizzles, sounding like a microwave placed too close to a radio, bassist/singer Satomi Matsuzaki coos some distorted caws reminiscent of the adults' voices from a Peanuts special. It's a moment that will strike most fans as quintessential Deerhoof: oddly appealing, even through the layers of weirdness. It will also strike the group's harshest critics as quintessential Deerhoof: weird for the sake of weird.
Actually, the truth lies somewhere in between.
To find the answer, you need to start at the beginning of Offend Maggie, where the classic-rock-guitar crunch of "The Tears and Music of Love" meets the sweet (and darkly playful) sing-song voice of Matsuzaki. Suddenly, in the midst of the driving whirlwind--as an instrumental, the track could almost be mistaken for a Thin Lizzy B-Side--a haze of dissonant electronics wash in, only to quickly recede. The song rounds the final bend urgently, with bursts of dirty guitars courtesy of John Dieterich and new addition Ed Rodriguez, only to deconstruct into lilting arpeggios, Matsuzaki's calming tones and the unusually tempered drum smacks of the often frenetic Greg Saunier.
Without tracks like this, or the blissful and jangly "Fresh Born," or the bluesy and blasting "Offend Maggie," or the epic peaks and valleys of "Jagged Fruit," moments like "This Is God Speaking" are weird for the sake of weird. Yet when it's all put together, contextually, it's merely another essential element of a beautifully quirky repertoire.
Formed in the mid-'90s in San Francisco, Deerhoof can legitimately stake a claim as one of the few indie bands to have weathered the storms of trends and corporate shilling to release consistently inventive, unique and uncompromised music. The evolution of Deerhoof is most notably evinced by their recorded work. Listen as the band with a million ideas on 2002's Reveille subtly transform into the conceptual, song-focused band of 2004's Milk Man, only to morph into the more straight-laced guitar rockers of 2005's The Runners Four, before shifting into the pop-obsessed oddballs of 2007's Friend Opportunity. Now, with Offend Maggie, they reveal themselves to be masters of idiosyncratic and muscular rock songs.
If nothing else, Deerhoof are a treat to track (casually or obsessively), a band whose twitchy progress belies the serious workhorses that make up the group. Guitarist John Dieterich, who has been with the group since 1999, spoke via e-mail about the band's preparation for its live performances. Deerhoof, for the uninitiated, are among the finest traveling acts: Volatile (in the best sense) and highly charged, they bring equal parts unadulterated glee and focus to each performance.
"We practice as much as we can, and we do work hard to come up with something that we all like," Dieterich said of the live shows. "For Offend Maggie, the process of recording the album was basically the same process as preparing for our live shows: practice!"
Dieterich mentioned that the Deerhoof ethos is not necessarily strategically planned to make each album shift in tone and style; instead, they "just do whatever seems right at the time, and that usually ends up being something different than what we did on the previous album." The fluidity, never forced or premeditated, shines through on tracks like the driving, bouncy "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back" (a Deerhoof punk tune) and the dark, winding math rock of "Eaguru Guru." Deerhoof's style seems to dodge any concentrated approach to songwriting; the only glue, to the outside observer, is concentrated mayhem.
"We don't write things together so much," Dieterich admitted. "We each work on things on our own, and then we work through them as a group. For Offend Maggie, we spent a couple of months working over the material, playing it together and trying to get it to make sense, and then we just went into the studio for a couple of days to record it."
Turning this kind of a disparate mélange into the beautiful and strange music found on each Deerhoof release shows a band with a pedigree. After all, it's not just any band that is invited to open for both Wilco and Radiohead. Although Deerhoof's demeanor and output suggest they have no real stadium aspirations themselves, the addition of guitarist Rodriguez finds the group poised to make big noise in the near future--similar to the explosive noises he often rips into throughout Offend Maggie. Bringing both his exuberant charm and six-string mastery to the group, Rodriguez is, Dieterich noted abstractly, quite the welcome addition.
"Ed and I have been playing together in bands for many years, so it kind of feels like falling off a log, but it's actually quite different in this new context," Dieterich noted. "He's amazing, and everyone's having so much fun playing together."
This excitement certainly shines through on record, but now fans and interested parties alike can find out just how the loud Offend Maggie translates live, what the addition of Rodriguez means to the band's already rapturous performances, and whether or not "God" herself will deliver any messages when Deerhoof roll into town.
In other words, it'll be a Deerhoof show: weird for the sake of being jaw-dropping great.