Review: Deerhoof – Breakup Song

Reviews / October 5, 2012

Deerhoof gives in to pop sound, produces excellent album as a result

Joyful Noise Recordings

Breakup Song, the latest album from San Francisco noise quartet, Deerhoof, is not one for the uninitiated. Surely an acquired taste, but nevertheless creative and experimental in its handling of high caliber pop songs, the album is a testament to Deerhoof at their catchiest. Crossing genres, cultures and a multitude of non-traditional instrumentation, this is a record that eleven albums, countless short-form releases, and virtually two decades worth of touring has led the band to create.

Known for an always segmented and oftentimes scattered approach to song-writing, the band takes their unconventional entropy-laden method of patching together off-kilter sequences and phrases, but infuses a greater influence of pop than normally present to make what is arguably the group’s most appealing record to date. It’s in this juxtaposition that the band finds resolve and focuses their schizophrenic tendencies into slightly more structured and digestible songs. As with most of Deerhoof’s discography, one does not require context to enjoy Breakup Song – the material stands well on its own – but knowing the origins and past work of this enigmatic group certainly helps understand what exactly is going on. Take album opener “Breakup Songs” and it’s similarities to “Dummy Discards a Heart” from 2003’s Apple O’ LP for example. While they’re both loud, pitchy and blasting, “Breakup Songs” benefits from dynamics and a range of electronic accents to help diversify the track; higher production value doesn’t hurt either.

On “The Trouble With Candyhands” you hear the band exploring Caribbean flavors in the use of Latin percussion, horn inspired keyboard effects and a steel drum. It’s one of the best tracks on the album and at its core, a significant sidestep away from the band’s typical offering, though singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s voice brings a familiarity to the song. “There’s That Grin” plays to this sense of cross-genre experimentation, this time with funk. Aside from the live drums, all instrumentation for the first minute is electronic. As Matsuzaki vocally suggests “not all at once,” various percussive instruments, a cowbell, conga drums and guitars slowly come in, one at a time, as if responding to the command of the lyrics.

Although Deerhoof has mastered the formula of tactfully fusing a variety of short musical phrases, it does leave one to wonder what may have become of these pockets of sugary melodies if given room to properly develop within their own compositions. “Fete d’Adieu” is the only song on the album allowed this luxury and it proves to be a great decision. Mainly a guitar driven track, the song gives the impression of completion with its use of verses, various choruses and a bridge. It’s a fantastic way to end an album soaked with non-linear patterns that ignore the conventional rules of structure for pop music.

Sound Quality: Flexi discs are notorious for producing horrendous sound with little replay-ability. While it’s impossible to guess how well these discs will age and remain playable, the sound quality present in this book is surprisingly incredible; much better than most in the format. For an album with much of it’s instrumentation electronically produced, there is an unexpected amount of low and mid-end resolution, true to its higher fidelity counterparts on 12″ vinyl.

Packaging: Over the course of Deerhoof’s history, the group has displayed an admirable appreciation for various physical formats. Making nearly all of their albums available on CD, vinyl and cassette, Breakup Song remains true to this tradition with the addition of the long dead Flexi Book. Pressed on flexible plastic discs roughly the size of a 7-inch vinyl record, flexi discs were most prevalent in the early 60s through the early 80s, and most often inserted in magazines. These days, flexi discs have become more popular with the help of labels like Third Man Records, SideOneDummy, and of course, Joyful Noise Recordings, proving once again that they are a label of constant innovation.

Spiral bound and twelve pages long, this version of Breakup Song is hands down the most interactive of the five available formats. To play, you simply turn the front cover all the way around its spiral binding and place the entire book on your record player. Each of the six multi-colored flexi discs includes two songs, featuring the album’s entire track listing with the addition of an exclusive song, “Just For That.” As you listen to the album, you simply turn the page every two songs; It’s an extremely simple concept, but one not seen in decades. Putting the concept aside, the construction of this book –  each of which are hand-numbered out of 500 – is fantastic. The flexi book plays much better than expected and resembles a CD booklet in its layout of band photos, lyrics and album credits.

Extras: Besides the previously mentioned Flexi Book, Joyful Noise also has the album available on white cassette tape, limited to 250, hand-numbered copies. At Polyvinyl Record Company, you can also pick it up on standard 12″ white vinyl. The release stretched across every format.

Summary: Over the course of Breakup Song, you get the sense that Deerhoof has finally given in – whilst reluctantly – to the pop leanings always present, but never fully embraced. It’s an album that will require multiple listens for most to fully enjoy, but one well worth the effort.

Make Sure To Spin: “Fete d’Adieu,” “The Trouble With Candyhands” and “There’s That Grin.”

You can still pick up the Flexi Book over at Joyful Noise. You can pick up the white vinyl at Polyvinyl. Photos courtesy of Joyful Noise.

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Julio Anta

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