If pressed to describe Deerhoof in a few words, this writer would suggest, “Hello Kitty fronts The Who,” which addresses the intense rock and twee spirit of the band; eternally off-center, the group is in continuous evolution while being always recognizable, sometimes falling back on its trademark sound with epic guitar swinging from John Dieterich and Satomi Matsuzaki’s simple, innocent singing. Drummer Greg Saunier has described the band’s new, eleventh album Breakup Song as “Cuban-flavored party-noise-energy music” and classified it as pop music that must be “catchy,” “new,” and having “no rules.” For better or worse, pop has always depended on formulas, so the lawless frontier of pop that Saunier offers is a redefining of that genre, favoring invention.
The arresting and abrupt “Breakup Songs” opens the album, dominated by guitar-based and synthesized crunchy sound bursts, and the vibe continues with “There’s That Grin,” with pointedly non-reverberating, stark drums, pin-prick guitar lines, and the Cuban percussion breakdown. While Saunier is a maniac drummer on stage, on record he’s been a bit more restrained lately, but “Bad Kids to the Front” has agitated and busy drums, complementing the popcorn synth disorder. One of the more difficult moments is “To Fly or Not to Fly,” starting with a sound wall before giving way to moderate, vague disco that fights with distorted, menacing guitar tones, and “We Do Parties” evokes a sort of sci-fi post-punk method with its stabbing guitars.
New ears will likely find any of Deerhoof’s albums to be astounding, while longtime listeners already have high expectations and may not be surprised as easily from a new Deerhoof record. Breakup Song does have its radical moments, but fans will perhaps appreciate its cohesiveness, with a common thread of motion-friendly, off-kilter dance numbers (most similar to the material on Green Cosmos) and an electronic direction.
Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston
Dialogues in Two Places
Novelist Rick Moody once wrote about attending a music camp in an issue of The Believer, and one part that stuck out was regarding improvisational methods, with vibraphonist Karl Berger offering, “If you find yourself, while improvising, believing you know what you’re going to do next, don’t play that.” This kind of philosophy makes free improvisation―that is, improv with no specific genre in mind―perhaps the most demanding type. The new free improv double-album Dialogues in Two Places from the British duo of saxophonist Trevor Watts and pianist Veryan Weston is a fascinating and adventurous listen, and part of the fun is trying to track the thought processes of the two and hearing ideas bounce off each other.
There is a strain of modern free improv where the players largely ignore each other, but that isn’t found in this set, which as suggested by its title, has perpetual collaboration, with constant synthesis and split-second self-editing. Both are seasoned players―Watts co-founded the Spontaneous Music Ensemble in the ‘60s and Weston has been active for four decades; Weston leans toward a sort of precise piano pointillism, seemingly staying on any given topic for no more than ten seconds, and Watts seems to nearly methodically avoid any typical scale, providing a warm, nimble style.
While the first set, recorded at the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival in Ontario, covers a lot of territory, the second set, documenting a performance at Robinwood Concert House in Toledo, Ohio, is wilder and more vigorous and loosened up, with some hard blowing moments but also with brighter, shimmering sonic flurries. The duo is less like two dogs tentatively sniffing each other and more like prolific idea-men generating a flood of ideas in a brainstorming session, forging ahead with a sense of purpose.