Ever since Deerhoof started moving toward accessibility on 2002's Reveille, fans have debated whether the San Francisco post-rock outfit is at its best when it makes rumbly experimental noise, or gnarled, faux-naïve guitar-pop. Those who prefer Deerhoof's weird side dug 2005's sprawling album The Runners Four, which largely put the cutesy stuff to rest in favor of the dark improvisational purity that defined the band when it started out in the mid-'90s. But Deerhoof has never stayed in any one camp for long, and its new record Friend Opportunity returns to the more listener-friendly avant-garde of Apple O' and Milk Man.
The key difference is that lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki isn't stuck with the little-girl storyteller act that she usually does during Deerhoof's pop excursions. Friend Opportunity has more hard-rock muscle backing its cooing melodies and artsy fragmentation, and Matsuzaki anchors the charge, singing with forcefulness without resorting to shrieking. The rest of the work is done in the editing room, where, through judicious use of Pro Tools or some intuitive in-studio arranging, songs like "+81" and "The Galaxist" become righteously unpredictable, cutting from power-riff to R&B horns to airy folk to spacey prog without losing coherence. Deerhoof then offers a contrast to the arrestingly choppy songs that make up the first two-thirds of the 35-minute album by ending with the 12-minute "Look Away," a cosmic jam that does with formlessness what the rest of Friend Opportunity does with microscopic cuts and obsessive shaping—proving it's possible to blow minds without battering people with reckless atonality. (Let this be a lesson to The Fiery Furnaces.) Friend Opportunity is adventurous and strange, but not insular. It lets everyone share the triumphant feeling of a puzzle reaching completion.