Now on its 12th album, Deerhoof should have it all figured out. But the group’s new record, Breakup Song, contains more contradictions than ever. A rough band presenting its smoothest listen, a guitar band sacrificing free jam for boxed beats, and a prog band’s attempt to dial down the aural kudzu: The idiosyncratic San Franciscan art-rockers have aimed for these targets before. What’s new is that the band is more or less hitting them—more or less, that is, because there’s still room for both tightening and loosening, and because it’s still Deerhoof, whose records are mostly known for approximating the ricocheting sensation of ADHD.
Because of its pointillist style, the band prefers not to stay in one place. Deerhoof’s best work has been spread across its career, from Milk Man’s guitar-heavy title track to Friend Opportunity’s samba-like Tom Zé tribute “+81.” That’s why Breakup Song surprises most with its consistency. One reason is low end: Satomi Matsuzaki’s squeak of a voice has reached dog-whistle frequencies on past work, but on Breakup Song’s eponymous opener, she contends perfectly with a piston-like distorted beat. It occupies a fuller audio space than anything Deerhoof’s ever done, leading directly into the likeminded hop-skip funk of “There’s That Grin.” “Zero Seconds Pause” vacuums up the whole room with its dive-bombing bass crunch clouding Greg Saunier’s surprisingly smooth breakbeats.
Even more definitive is melody, which overflows on tracks like early highlight “Mothball The Fleet,” which slides up and down a Japanese koto-like synth while Matsuzaki warns to “prepare yourself.” Apropos of nothing, the track finishes as a piano ballad. Strangely, Deerhoof’s new interest in genre pastiche only makes the songs more cohesive: “Flower” grooves on a Stereolab-like vamp while the “The Trouble With Candyhands” cuts up horns and masquerades as a cha-cha. The compacted whole blends together ideas so brief that the usual irritants (like the tinkly electronic intro of “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III”) never settle in for too long, barely noticeable, much less memorable. And the band rides into the sunset with one of its best-ever tunes: “Fete d’Adieu,” which plants a dreamy melody over a circular, Creedence-like guitar choogle topped off by some of Matsuzaki’s prettiest singing. It actually sounds joyful, bent time signature and all—an odd conclusion to an album entitled Breakup Song. But Deerhoof revels in eternally turning perpendicular on itself, an optical illusion for the ears that the foursome has perfected with age.