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Deerhoof - Breakup Song

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Artist: Deerhoof

Album: Breakup Song

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Sep. 4, 2012

Deerhoof have few peers when it comes to longevity and consistency, and Breakup Songs finds them in characteristically fine form. That isn’t to say the album holds no surprises: While the band has moved in so many directions that it’s hard to imagine them trying anything new, Breakup Songs feels fresher and newer than their past few efforts. Guitars recede perhaps farther into the background than ever before, and most of the album’s 11 tracks are constructed around drums and synthesizers. Despite the potentially ominous title, Breakup Songs does indeed, as singer Satomi Matsuzaki declared in a recent interview, sound like a party.

While hardly bereft of melody and poppy moments, Breakup Songs feels less song-based than most of Deerhoof’s past efforts. As usual, various independent fragments are pieced together on each track. Here, however, the usual song-based logic on how these fragments join together seems to be tossed to the wind, perhaps as a result of a writing process based largely on a long-distance exchange of ideas. Rhythm, rather than melody, dominates, with funk and dance music playing a prominent role: From the angular synth squeals of the title track to the mambo of “The Trouble with Candyhands,” groove is the top priority here. While never veering toward the inaccessible, the focus on rhythm sometimes leads to rather abrasive results. “Bad Kids to the Front,” probably the album’s most complex track, piles on an absurd number of percussion tracks, while “We Do Parties” pounds out the same synth loop for a full three-minutes. These extremes are always judiciously paired with fitting contrasts to maximum effect, without merely relying on a simplistic soft/loud dynamic.

While Breakup Songs is hardly less fractured than Deerhoof’s other albums, it’s also one of their more coherent efforts. Its brief 30-minute runtime (not atypical for Deerhoof) keeps focus sharp and energy high, and tone and tempo vary little. Precisely what that tone is might be a bit of challenge to describe; Matsuzaki’s lyrics are typically wacky, dealing with both heartache and space travelling human-animal hybrids (she opts for the gender neutral “personimal” rather than the more common “manimal”), which may or may not be related. As the album draws to a close with the beautiful repeated guitar riffs of “Fête d’adieu,” though, it’s clear that Deerhoof have made their point (“I declare the war over animal!”) and squarely hit their target once again.

By Michael Cramer

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