Two weeks before its official release, Deerhoof’s 14th album, Mountain Moves, debuted on Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download, with 100 percent of all proceeds going to The Emergent Fund. While Mountain Moves isn’t a “political” record in sound—there’s no fiery drum rolls or Rage Against The Machine-like commands—it is one in structure. The art-rock act, which has constantly redefined itself and upended listener expectations since 1994, here brings in a rotating cast of guest artists, every one of whom is a woman or person of color who similarly pushes musical boundaries. It covers other artists’ songs that have deeply revolutionary ties. Every lyric pays homage to past protests and calls upon younger generations to rise up. Above all, it preaches combating frightening times with open-mindedness and life-affirming vigor: “In this world of tyrants and CEOs seemingly hellbent on achieving the termination of our species,” Deerhoof writes in an accompanying message, “perhaps the most rebellious thing we could do is not die.”
With help from Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, lead single “I Will Spite Survive” takes aim at corporate media suppressing voices of truth and urges listeners to stay vigilant against them. Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier brings a funky undertone to the boomer-baiting Bob Dylan homage “Come Down Here And Say That.” Rapper-comedian Awkwafina turns “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You” into a serious hip-hop track with impressive breakdowns, while gem-toned vocalist Xenia Rubinos keeps listeners’ attention during the slow ballad of “Singalong Junk.” Not everyone is used to their fullest potential: Chad Popple and Devin Hoff’s experimental piece is hard to decipher, while underrated Argentine musician Juana Molina’s voice often hides behind Deerhoof singer Satomi Matsuzaki. But throughout, the guests are given freedom to improvise, resulting in some inspired collaborations.
Of course, Deerhoof still sounds best on its own. The open-toned guitar work on “Ay That’s Me” is alternately dizzying and soothing, on par with the band’s finest. Matsuzaki’s bass line on “Palace Of The Governors” manages to outshine the strings, while Greg Saunier rolls out a full percussive spread on “Con Sordino” despite production levels placing his bells and snippy drum rolls into the background. And guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez playfully volley slides and spasms on “Begin Countdown.”
It also brings its own voice to ’60s classics like The Staple Singers’ “Freedom Highway,” written in response to the murder of Emmett Till; Deerhoof revamps the song as an energizing tale about the importance of persistence and patience for equality. It does the same for “Gracias A La Vida” by Chilean musician Violeta Parra—an ironic celebration of life that suggests grief is inevitable—which Deerhoof retells in its original language alongside operatic backing vocals and orchestral strings, in brief, minute-long bursts.
At first blush, these covers might feel out of place, but they’re the foundation on which Mountain Moves places Deerhoof’s own protest march against inequality here in the 21st century. And if Mountain Moves occasionally feels disconnected, it’s because the theme upon which it hinges—injustice—is, sadly, still as broadly defined as it gets. Fortunately, that disconnectedness makes for a bright, lively listen—a message of life, hope, and diversity in a world that still needs to hear it.