March 06, 2003

Deerhoof "Apple O'"

This site’s editor knew what he was doing when he sent this record to me. Anyone who’s read the review that I wrote for Deerhoof’s previous album Reveille already knows how enamored I am of this band. I still stand by my assertion that Reveille is as tuneful and unpredictable as rock music got last year. However, judging from some of the Deerhoof interviews that I read from earlier this year, the band wasn’t as satisfied with it as I was. Shortly before recording Apple O’, Deerhoof added a second guitarist, Chris Cohen, who felt that the music on the previous album had a bit TOO much going on. This prompted the rest of the group to take a stripped-down approach to writing and recording the new album. Upon reading this, I feared that they would make a sequel to their second album Holdypaws, which remains the most conventional and least appealing release in the band’s discography. Fortunately, Apple O’ is more like a slightly less awesome Reveille, without the nine-second interludes and eight-minute songs. Don’t get it twisted, though: any album that manages to be just “slightly less awesome” than Reveille still needs to be purchased immediately, even if you have to sell your own plasma to get the money!

Despite the absence of studio trickery, Deerhoof still sound like Deerhoof. Greg Saunier still plays drums like a jazz-trained Keith Moon, and his wife Satomi still sings like a saner, pitch-perfect Yoko Ono. A glimpse at the lyric sheet reveals even more of the simplest and most infantile lyrics known to man. The lyrics to one song in its entirety are: “China panda/Bamboo panda/I like panda/Bye bye panda/Panda road.” (The song is creatively titled “Panda Panda Panda” for those of you who didn’t get the point.) Satomi milks lyrics like these for all they’re worth, stretching her syllables and vowels to sound like she’s singing more than she actually is. Guitarists Cohen and John Dieterich still run honeyed Merseybeat melodies through ear-piercing distortion and feedback. The band still writes nursery rhymes, only to blow them up to arena-sized proportions, and then run them through a rusty ghetto blaster. These songs don’t end as much as they peter out after running out of tangents to pursue. The band’s sound-collage fetish pops up only twice on this album: “Sealed with a Kiss,” a song consisting almost entirely of staccato samples of organs and trumpets, and the beginning of “Adam and Eve Connection,” which is basically a reprise of the climax of “Sealed.” Otherwise, Apple O’ is basically a live-in-the-studio recording: two guitars, drums, and Satomi’s voice and occasional bass playing.

“My Diamond Star Car,” a sharp instrumental blast of lightning-fingered guitars and time-signature trickery, would make the perfect soundtrack to a cartoon chase scene. I kept waiting to hear Road Runner pop up with a “Meep! Meep!” before the song’s end. The musicianship on “Panda Panda Panda,” on the other hand, is so loose and sloppy that the song sounds like it’s being held together by sheer centrifugal force. “Apple Bomb,” the album’s most lyrically intelligible song, is a slow, soothing ballad that compares the creation of Adam and Eve to the explosion of a bomb. The song itself eventually rises to a thunderous peak, making it the most fitting representation of an album that seems to have love as a thematic core, in which things that seem placid on the surface often have volatile undercurrents. Greg and Satomi sing together in equally goofy falsettos during almost-unplugged songs such as “Dinner for Two” and “Adam and Eve Connection,” and the results are as intimate and heartwarming as indie-rock ballads can get without Ira and Georgia of Yo La Tengo being involved.

Though it’s not as instantly challenging as Reveille, very little of Apple O’ is anything but excellent, which makes this album the third consecutive addition to Deerhoof’s winning streak. In fact, this album may end up turning more people on to this group than Reveille did precisely BECAUSE of its comparatively Spartan approach. O what a pleasant world this would be if more people got to relive their spastic pastel-colored childhood through Deerhoof’s wonderful music!

---Sean Padilla

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