Deerhoof has something of an aluminum musical identity; it’s both incredibly strong and incredibly malleable. With their latest offering, Breakup Song, the quartet have melted down their most basic elements—Satomi Matsuzaki’s knack for saccharine melody, Greg Saunier’s intricate drum work, and the spindly unpredictable guitar duels of Dieterich and Rodriguez—and poured them into various musical molds. What we get is 14 songs shaped by a diverse range of genres and piled high with stylistic pastiches. But for all the band’s amoeba-like appropriation, every song still sounds exactly like Deerhoof—albeit in the case of this release, it’s Deerhoof wearing a party hat.
This isn’t new. Since 2002’s Reveille, every album the band has produced has been sprinkled so liberally with eclectic ideas that pinning down exactly what the group has accomplished can be difficult. It’s like eating Jell-O with a fork: for every specific element can get a hold on, several others will wiggle through your tines. On the spin through Breakup Song you may pick up on the conga-line stomp of “The Trouble with Candyhands” but overlook the track’s fantastic bleating horn fanfares. Likewise, on “Zero Seconds Pause” the Mortal Kombat-inspired synth riff is so surprising it’s easy to miss the great little drum fills.
A lot of the fun of this record—and fun is definitely the objective, the band touts the album as “Cuban-flavored party-noise-energy music”—comes from listening close to all the sonic ornamentation and unexpected turns that round out each song. There is something very satisfying about the way the group builds a track like “There’s that Grin,” taking it from a chunky riff dominated by a steady electronic beep and suddenly rolling it into a angular post-punk breakdown. The same goes for the way the band folds a naïve little lullaby into the outro of “Mothball the Fleet.” Yeah, it’s a trick as old as “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but when executed with Deerhoof’s unique musical vocabulary it still sounds fresh and exciting.
A lot of this may be due to the way the album was recorded. While living in different cities, each member contributed to the process, lending bits and pieces of songs recorded on various instruments. This makes the final product a bit of an assemblage where different elements are continually coming together, overlapping, complementing, and contrasting with each other. In an interview with Stereogum, Saunier talks about how this discontinuity is intentional and one of the strong points of the album.
Through the most interesting moment on Breakup Song comes from a place of relative cohesion, a track called “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III.” Built off whirring electronics, a thumping beat, and looped guitar twang that recalls a clubgoer’s “woo!,” the song falls somewhere between Crystal Castles and Haddaway. It’s new territory for a band that hasn’t made too many previous attempts at filling dance floors—the closest analog would be the title track from the Green Cosmos EP. And the song completely works. It hits its high point on the brief outro when all the layers fall away to reveal a jagged dance-punk riff that would fit on an early !!! album. In short; it’s new, interesting, and the inevitable remixes are going to be great.