God bless Deerhoof for never growing tired of being Deerhoof. In the time it takes most two-decade-old bands to make a record, Deerhoof makes three. Shattered kick drums litter the San Francisco band’s trajectory. Deerhoof makes music recklessly and wildly, but with great skill and a premium on sweetness.
The Magic, the band’s aptly named 13th album, is the loosest, most expansive Deerhoof LP in some years. The giddy sense of sprawl calls to mind 2005’s career high The Runners Four. The recording process reads like some comic distillation of how you imagine Deerhoof might conduct business: The quartet rented an “abandoned office space in the middle of the New Mexico desert” and then—over the course of a week—proceeded to “set up, plug in, and play really loud.”
The result is a more spastic affair than 2014’s La Isla Bonita. The signature guitar tone here is a leathery, overdriven growl, and the record’s hidden weapon is an emphasis on groove. (Weirdly, The Magic is a much funkier LP than the one the Red Hot Chili Peppers put out last week.) Check “Model Behavior,” a demented James Brown homage that stakes its place as the funkiest Deerhoof song since 2007’s “Believe E.S.P.” Apparently inspired by Bernie Sanders (“A system / A victim / A candidate,” goes a refrain), the song builds to a synth solo that sounds like a Pac-Man game hollowing out your skull. “Debut,” with its clanging, two-guitar attack, packs a similar groove.
There’s a sense of loose abandon on these tracks. Bandmates trade vocal duties freely with Satomi Matsuzaki’s sing-songy cadence. Greg Saunier, the group’s high-octane drummer, gives one of his most confident vocal performances on “Plastic Thrills,” a sugary single buoyed by hand claps and power chords. “That Ain’t No Life To Me,” sung by guitarist Ed Rodríguez, is the closest Deerhoof will come to a straightforward hardcore number. And there are detours, like a brief, underdeveloped interlude (“Patrasche Come Back”) and a cover of the Ink Spots’ 1941 hit “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” that’s nearly comical in its oddball sincerity. Lyrically, Deerhoof’s signature optimism feels like a rare resource in 2016: On “Criminals Of The Dream,” the band consoles us that “things aren’t as bad as they seem.”
Writer Choire Sicha once remarked that people should write books the way Woody Allen makes movies—“put out a little book every year and [don’t] spend too much time on it.” This seems to be how Deerhoof makes records, with maximum glee and minimal overthinking. Occasional dud aside (see 2011’s tepid Deerhoof Vs. Evil), the approach brings a measure of exhilaration that great live acts rarely harness on disc. Deerhoof seems to live in perpetual wonder of this gift: On “Criminals Of The Dream,” Matsuzaki repeatedly wonders “where the magic hides.” The answer is a sonic question mark, an ascending synth squiggle carrying the song onward.