Deerhoof, now 10 albums into their career, have settled into a particular style. This isn’t necessarily a negative criticism, as a number of bands with longevity – Sonic Youth or Stereolab say – have transient strategies that eventually settle down into a coherent, stable pattern. Deerhoof perhaps hit their stride with Apple O’ and Milk Man, both unified albums – as opposed to simply being an assemblage of songs – when compared to previous efforts. Without knowing what will happen in the future, they seem to be refining those ideas for the time being, or at least letting them logically play out.
So, Offend Maggie doesn’t offer much in way of change. As cynical as the times we live in might be, that could be taken as a polite rebuke, but it’s not meant that way. They’re a creative band. And when a large majority of musicians are locked into some standard mode of this or that genre with minor variations here and there, my critical apparatus isn’t offended if Deerhoof spends the rest of their existence making albums in this vein.
I am particularly seized by the phenomenological feeling of their music. Listening to a Deerhoof song is a very specific experience that results from the dialectic between the anxious and the mellifluous. I don’t mean to keep tossing the word “dialectic” around with abandon, but the point of using this jargon is to exhibit the dynamic quality of their songs. It’s not that they create music that is tense (in terms of instrumentation) and calm (in terms of Matsuzaki’s vocals). To say the music relays two qualities at once, even mildly contradictory ones like anxious/tranquil, is to impart upon Deerhoof a static notion. They are constantly traversing the land between these two notions, never settling on one or the other. It’s not like telling a joke, where one creates a balloon of tension only to satisfyingly pop it with the punchline; rather, their music exists as constant state of agitation between anxiety and placidity. It seems silly then to condemn them for homogeneity, a sin I think invented by the rapidity of the 20th century.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know what we should be demanding from artists in terms of novelty, if we should be demanding anything at all. A new experience every album? Infinite growth? How unreal a demand is that? And am I simply making excuses for a moribund, albeit extremely inventive, band?