Deerhoof learns not to overthink, Fear of Men cross pop and punk
When you were a kid, you didn’t overthink music. You liked what you liked, on the most primitive levels—the throb of rock, the catchy hooks of pop or the rhythmic tug of hip-hop. Regarding the latest Deerhoof album, The Magic, drummer Greg Saunier said it was informed by “what we liked when we were kids—when music was magic—before you knew about the industry and before there were rules.”
Knowing the circumstances surrounding the recording of The Magic—it was written and recorded in a single week in the middle of the desert in New Mexico at a disused office space—it’s clear that the band did not overthink it. The result is one of the group’s most immediate and visceral albums that kicks down the front door and trashes your house, mixed with some oddly sweet moments, with nods to the past taken from fuzzy memories and the inability to make anything that sounds normal.
Fans know that Saunier’s drumming on studio recordings is more restrained than his live deluge of fills and wild, unhinged style, and the recording style on The Magic features drums with a slight distortion, along with a powdering of dirt on everything. Satomi Matsuzaki sings lead as usual, with an unadorned, childlike enunciation, and the other band members also lend their vocals, although less distinctively.
The killer opener, “The Devil and His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue,” unloads manic rock with a few swift transitions into what sounds like an ‘80s soft rock band with Japanese lyrics in someone’s basement but isn’t terrible.
The brief “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” is an off-kilter ‘60s-esque pop ballad that could have been written by Burt Bacharach’s evil twin, and “Model Behavior” offers a sort of alien funk with a peak electronic freak-out.
Guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez serve up needle-prick notes, squealing timbres or big, dumb, glorious chords with urgency, and the final number, “Nurse Me” is an off-balance, herky-jerky bundle of weirdness with exploding moments, capping off yet another exhilarating album that has something for jaded listeners.
Fear of Men
The cover of Fall Forever, the second proper full-length from the British group Fear of Men, shows a digitally-altered depiction of a sculpture with two hands firmly grasping a woman’s thigh and lower back. It is actually a detail from Italian sculptor Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina (this writer’s favorite sculpture of all time), manipulated to make the marble look like metal and cropped so that situational cues are not visible—what some might interpret to be a tender embrace on the album cover is actually the violent abduction of Proserpina by Pluto, the god of the underworld.
Fear of Men songwriter and lead singer Jessica Weiss told Paper magazine that the group was taking classical artwork and “taking it forward and making it more modern,” which is what the band also was doing with its music. The cover could also be a representation of the group’s artificiality, percussive sonic aggression and emotional turmoil.
The core trio of Weiss, guitarist Daniel Falvey and drummer Michael Miles offers an icy, formal intersection of post-punk and pop music, and apparently, “taking it forward” on Fall Forever means primarily two things, musically: dramatically altering Miles’ drumbeats with various studio techniques and using heavily treated guitar sounds, to the point where they sometimes sound like synths.
Beats are chopped and repeated, occasionally processed with a sort of reverse reverb, making the 8-beat clusters resemble machine gun fire and serving as the album’s trademark flourish.
Apparently recovering from a particularly bad year, Weiss created lyrics that avoid the metaphors of her previous songs and are straightforward, to the point where the listener might desire some kind of artistic inflection, over her new unambiguous writing style.
For example, on “Trauma,” Weiss sings, “You give me trauma / You give me more than I can bear” with a chilly, calm voice, resembling the style of Alison Statton of Young Marble Giants.
The album’s high points are the back-to-back tracks “Island” and “A Memory,” which settle out with three and four-chord pop progressions; while much of the album is a somber affair, with the group trying a few new things sonically, this writer felt like he was mostly waiting for the choice pop moments—the band’s strong suit—which were welcome but few.