Deerhoof, “My Lovely Cat!” (Joyful Noise)
Deerhoof's music has always displayed a rewarding tension between the tart and the sweet, between the clangor and the tuneful. They've spun countless variations on the theme of vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki's playful declarations pirouetting over angular, abrasive guitar riffs, unpredictable rock rhythms, and free-jazz-like chaos. Though over the years they've smoothed out some of their songs' rough edges and transitioned occasionally into something of a flagrant prog-pop outfit, Deerhoof still delight in dispensing many ideas per song. And unlike most rock groups, Deerhoof—who also include guitarist Ed Rodriguez, drummer Greg Saunier, and guitarist John Dieterich—have a surplus of good ones.
Remarkably, after nearly 30 years of toil in the indie-rock trenches, Deerhoof still sound vital. Their 19th album, Miracle-Level (out March 31), is their first sung entirely in Matsuzaki's native Japanese tongue, and it finds them returning to the tricky, vertiginous math-rock of their '00s peak. Deft shifts in dynamics abound here and guitar textures are varied and spectacularly tactile. (Let's acknowledge the great production work by Mike Bridavsky.) The curt, bombastic instrumental “Jet-Black Double-Shield” could pass for a mid-'70s King Crimson outtake (huge compliment) while the beguiling title track is as fragile as a narcissist's ego but a trillion times prettier. “Momentary Art of Soul!” matches Battles at their own insanely complex, robotic-rock game. One densely packed, powerful song's titled “Everybody, Marvel,” and it's a command to which the listener can nod in agreement throughout Miracle-Level.
“My Lovely Cat!” earns its exclamation mark. After an intro of distorted guitar and strong-man beats that could deceive you into thinking it's a cover of the Breeder's “Cannonball,” it then slides into a gorgeous rock song glazed with some of Satomi's smoothest, sweetest vocals and a melody that swerves and surges like a world-class roller coaster. I don't understand Matsuzaki's Japanese, but I perfectly get the pure admiration blooming from her felicitous feline feelings. Deerhoof have glutted us with joy once again.
Deerhoof perform May 4 at Neumos.
Neil S. Kvern, “Slow Mirrors/Big Circle”
It's strange how the biggest advocate for '70s/'80s Seattle/Olympia experimental music has been a New York City label, RVNG Intl., and its feisty subsidiary, Freedom to Spend. But the discography doesn't lie. RVNG and Ft$ have dug very deep to unearth crucial recordings by K. Leimer, Savant, Marc Barreca, and Cheri Knight, and now they've done it again with Neil S. Kvern. Who, you ask? Exactly. Online info about Kvern is scarce. And that's why these labels' scholarship and diligence have been so important to the region's history of overlooked avant-gardists.
Freedom to Spend co-owner Jed Bindeman—who also plays in the Portland psych-rock band Eternal Tapestry and co-runs the Little Axe Records retail shop—encountered a 1983 cassette by Kvern titled Doctor Dancing Mask while sifting through a large collection of a fellow Portland crate-digger. Bindeman and label partner Pete Swanson had never heard of Kvern (who apparently once worked for The Rocket), but the tape's title and cover piqued their interest, so they played it.
They were instantly floored by his distinctive combination of cyclical piano motifs and hypnotic hand percussion, spiced by the occasional intriguing melody. Case in point for the latter are “Hangup City” and “Purple Scarf,” which induce a sense of uneasy contemplation and are ripe for soundtrack usage in existential suspense films. So, now they're issuing the 10-track album Doctor Dancing Mask: Pianoisms on January 27 on vinyl and digital formats.
“Slow Mirrors/Big Circle” enters the frame with distant, ritualistic percussion and faraway piano tone clusters. It may trigger thoughts of Pink Floyd's “Heart Beat, Pig Meat,” a suspense-building instrumental heard in Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. A little past the three-minute mark, the piano chords clarify and embolden into lush ostinatos of overcast mesmerism. It's just one of many intriguing pieces of the long-hidden puzzle that is the output of Neil S. Kvern. Let's hope more of his creations see daylight soon.