ABOVE THE CURRENT
How could it be true that Deerhoof are, for the first time in their almost 30 years of existence, releasing a studio album? It is, when viewed from a technical (and cheeky) perspective; drummer Greg Saunier and singer Satomi Matsuzaki hadn’t previously recorded a full album in a proper recording studio prior to this. Turns out that might be the most proper perspective from which to appreciate Deerhoof, whose penchant for detail knows no end.
Producer Mike Bridavsky sat behind the boards for Miracle-Level. The record also sees Matsuzaki singing in her native Japanese language for the first time on the duration of a Deerhoof full-length (she previously did so on 2005’s Green Cosmos, but that was only an EP). With 19 past “studio” albums, this document shows, once again, that nothing can contain Deerhoof’s sound and vision. And that includes recording studios with an outside producer (previous albums were self-produced).
Saunier and Matsuzaki’s ambition for Deerhoof albums is unparalleled, from recording in bedrooms and hotel rooms, to flexing between a three- and four-piece, to playing with classical music group Dal Niente. The biggest question surrounding their working with an outside producer is whether such a collaboration would harness the band’s expertise in making left-field, zany material. While there’s a palpable distinctness to Miracle-Level, the distance between the listener’s ear and the band doesn’t distract from Saunier and Matsuzaki’s experimental mastery. In fact, it’s even easier to appreciate their unpredictable creations from said distance.
The second song on Miracle-Level, “My Lovely Cat!,” proves the point in and of itself. One of their best songs to date, Deerhoof combines complex, Zeppelin-esque rhythms with an offbeat, maniacal approach that calls Brainiac to mind. The pivot into the chilled-out “The Poignant Melody” shows Deerhoof’s strength is more dexterous than what most bands flaunt over the course of their entire career.
Then there’s the rest of the record—and that’s where we see the full magnificence of Deerhoof. The title track is even more delicate than “Poignant Melody,” with Matsuzaki’s hushed vocals balancing atop a heap of shimmering, albeit somewhat deliberately mangled, guitar and keys. “Phase-Out All Remaining Non-Miracles by 2028” stretches even further than “My Lovely Cat!,” with Deerhoof somehow able to forge melody and harmony notwithstanding a flurry of time changes and choppy guitars. Maybe not melody and harmony as impressive as Blonde Redhead, but melody and harmony nonetheless.
Those songs, and beyond, are where Bridavsky’s guidance proves most effective as well. The separation of sounds on “Phase Out” is only outdone by the engineered collection of them on “Momentary Art of Soul!,” another diabolically tongue-twisting Deerhoof track worthy of its exclamation point. It’s hard to decide which is superior: the Deerhoof listening experience with their sounds separated into different channels as on that track, or the notes more interwoven on songs like “Momentary” and album closer “Wedding, March, Flower” (on which Saunier, too, sings in Japanese).
Fortunately, there’s no need to make such a choice: Miracle-Level is Deerhoof sounding more vital than they have in years, and it’s the strongest representation yet of the band in all its forms. The album freeze-frames all their dimensionality, ultimately dishes up some of their strongest material since 2007’s Friend Opportunity. Ride on, Deerhoof, ride on.