Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Deerhoof: Offend Maggie

Written by Zachary Martin
At this point, Deerhoof is really one of the last remaining strongholds of indie music. Longevity is not a requirement in rock music, but Deerhoof has been on the scene for over ten years, proving to anyone who wants to listen that it is possible to make the art you want and be popular.
At this point, Deerhoof is really one of the last remaining strongholds of indie music. Longevity is not a requirement in rock music, but Deerhoof has been on the scene for over ten years, proving to anyone who wants to listen that it is possible to make the art you want and be popular. Over the years the term “skronk pop” has crept up around them to describe their quirky, bouncing fusion of sounds. But from the beginning, they have excelled at being experimental rock music that is both avant-garde­ and actually rocks. Their new album, Offend Maggie, toes the line in the same tradition.

I will confess that I’m not always on board with what happens during the course of any given song on the album, but this is not a bad thing. I appreciate the challenge and look forward to being rewarded by the band’s ability to seamlessly weave elements of classical composition (by founding member and drummer Greg Saunier), Japanese pop, and Sonic Youth art rock, all tempered by the sparse projective lyrical images of Satomi Matsuzaki. Yet despite the lofty goals of this art rock, Deerhoof brings each strand together in a way that never eclipses the song itself.

Offend Maggie is a fourteen-song collection of tightly orchestrated, fluid pop songs beholding a universe planted within a walnut. What do you like? Deerhoof has something for you. For me, it is the gratification that comes in the final seconds of “Fresh Born,” when instead of resolving the matter, the song morphs from pop to rock without ever losing the listener’s trust. Within all the songs on Offend Maggie, one can find the tense confusion of a standoffish movement, two forces pushing against each other but always managing to resolve themselves into a comfortable lush singalong pop song. It is this dedication to movement that separates Deerhoof from the other bands that have sprung up in their wake and continues to keep their sound relevant. 

But despite the fusion of several different styles and the constant experimentation, Deerhoof is a pop band that have reduced the genre to its syrupy essence. “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” is fun in the way that any pop song is, but it is also challenging you to consider the form. Amidst the jarring, almost prog-rock melody, Matsuzaki sings, "Basket ball Basket ball basket/Dribble/Pivot Pivot Pivot Pivot Escape/Dribble/Bunny Jump Bunny Jump." It’s a pop song, but it also knows that it’s a pop song, and thus is a pop song telling you something about being a pop song. If Phil Spector created a vision of American pop informed by the gigantic walls of sound in Wagner’s epic operas, Deerhoof based their vision more on the minimalist aesthetic of Philip Glass.

While many people who have been following Deerhoof since the release of the first single on Kill Rock Stars in 1995 (the same label on which Offend Maggie appears) might have been scared away by their recent tour in support of Radiohead, Offend Maggie should put any fears to rest about success altering the band’s sound. Songs like the title track, “Buck and Judy,” and “Jagged Fruit” are classic Deerhoof skronk pop. Songs like “My Purple Past” and the opener, “Tears and Music of Love,” also assert themselves as good-to-the-bone rock songs. 

For me personally, living in San Francisco, listening to Offend Maggie as I look out over the Mission District with Potrero Hill peeking out just over the tops of old Edwardian flats, I can’t help but feel that Deerhoof’s sound would never be possible anywhere other than the Bay Area. They are a product of their place in much the same way that The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth were and are a product of New York. If this seems like a stretch, consider these lines from the song “Snoopy Waves," "California/Traveling golden week/Our pals are coming to town./California/Dressing in Pretty Greens/Sunshine coming to town." For some indie rockers, such expressions of optimism and hedonism are hearsay.  But this isn’t New York; this is California, and this is Deerhoof speaking.  Offend Maggie will keep you on your toes as a listener and challenge you to confront a style you may not immediately enjoy, but in the end, I promise, you'll have fun.

Offend Maggie is set for release on October 7, 2008 but for those of you who can’t wait, the band has released their first single—sort of. This being Deerhoof, there is always a catch; at the moment, Fresh Born is only available in sheet music format. The band is encouraging their listeners to learn and record their own versions of the song before they hear the original. To download the sheet music and hear already recorded versions by other bands, go to: deerhoof.cashmusic.org.

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