September 09, 2004

Deerhoof "Green Cosmos"

When I found out that Deerhoof planned to release an EP that would be sold only at shows on their Japanese tour, I bristled inside. Once again, a band I love was about to torture the completist in me by releasing a limited-edition record that I would end up coughing up a ridiculous amount of money to have imported to me. (Message to Hood: I still haven’t forgiven you for The Hood Tapes, you Yank-hating hacks!) Fortunately, just when I was about to convert my entire paycheck from dollars to yen, the band changed its mind and decided to give Green Cosmos a proper domestic release.

The fact that you can buy Green Cosmos without breaking the bank is but one cause for celebration. The second cause is that it finally reverses the trend of each successive Deerhoof release being ever-so-slightly weaker than its predecessor. The third, and most important, is that the EP transcends the stigmas of being both a stopgap to tide fans over until their next full-length (A DOUBLE ALBUM! AND IT’S ONLY A MONTH AWAY!!!) AND a cash cow for tour support by illustrating just how limitless the possibilities for the band’s music have become.

This EP distinguishes itself from every other Deerhoof release by being sung almost entirely in Japanese. After the first listen, though, the novelty wears off. Bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s sounds the same when she’s singing in her native tongue as it does when she sings in English --- clipped and childlike, she blends in with the music so effortlessly that the words end up taking a backseat to the melody anyway. The CD booklet helpfully provides translations of the lyrics, some of which betray an introspection that goes oft-unacknowledged in reviews. “Malalauma” is a succinct paean to a friendly neighbor, and “Spiral Golden Town” describes the sadness that often lurks inside the hearts of people who come to San Francisco (the band’s hometown) seeking stardom.

Green Cosmos also boasts some of Deerhoof’s biggest sonic departures. With its layers of syncopated percussion, the title track could almost be seen as a sped-up tribute to go-go music. It also sports a long mid-section in which circus organs take the mix hostage and grow increasingly dissonant, until Satomi and her keyboards abruptly reclaim control of the song. The backing track of “Spiral Golden Town” is constructed almost entirely from programmed drums and horns straight out of a Bollywood movie. Both of these songs seem to come from a parallel universe in which the idea of hearing Deerhoof on your local R&B station isn’t COMPLETELY far-fetched. I hope they make more songs like these two in the future.

The other songs on the EP sound more like a fusion of all of Deerhoof’s past triumphs. It begins with a remake of one of their earlier songs, “Come See the Duck,“ that hints at the raucous nature of the band’s brilliant live shows. The gentle yet queasy guitar arpeggios of “Malalauma” and “Koneko Kitten” recall their 2001 album Halfbird. The EP’s closer, “Byun,” could have come straight off of Milk Man with its disjointed shifts in tempo and texture. Overall, Green Cosmos is not only one of the band’s strongest releases, but is also a great starting point for anyone who hasn’t yet stepped into the band’s magical world of sound.

--Sean Padilla

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