Deerhoof: Actually, You Can (Joyful Noise) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, February 24th, 2024  


Actually, You Can

Joyful Noise

Nov 08, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Few bands traversing the indie rock circuit are as prolific as Deerhoof: 18 albums over a quarter of a century—including three in the last two years. And no band matches their ability to draw from so many contrasting styles and influences while still creating something that sounds cohesive. On Actually, You Can, they alternate between chaotic math rock and hypnotic alternative, weaving an album that feels equal parts eclectic and spontaneous.

Underneath all that sonic excitement, Actually, You Can is unabashedly political. Their Bandcamp page for Actually, You Can contains a manifesto: “Think of all the beauty, positivity and love that gets deemed ugly, negative and hateful by the self-proclaimed guardians of ‘common sense.’ We’d hardly be destroying society by dismantling their colonial economics and prisons and gender roles and aesthetics. We’d be creating it!”

Listening through the album though, the politics are easy to miss. Bassist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki’s lyrics are cryptic and sparse: the first words of the album—“If we have only planted onions/How are all these tomatoes growing?”—reference an essay by civil rights activist Maya Angelou. Without that contextual information, its message might be easy to miss. And that’s before it bashes you over the head with a blunt guitar that morphs into a bouncy, staccato lead. It’s fun, but also very easy to focus on the banging guitar instead of the onions. “Department of Corrections” is similarly up for interpretation. Matsuzaki sings of a jailer who, depending on interpretation, can represent many things. Is the jailer religion (“You turn my letters to lines/You turn my water into wines”)? Self-doubt (“Oh, jailer, who’s in charge around here?/And if not you, then is it I”)? Is it meant as a more straightforward anti-prison system commentary? The lack of concrete messaging makes the album rewarding to engage with, like a David Lynch film.

Or take the idiosyncratic “Scarcity is Manufactured,” on which guitarist Ed Rodriguez claims that every note he plays is “Mexican music,” inspired by Ritchie Valens’ 1958 rock ‘n’ roll take on the traditional Mexican folk song, “La Bamba.” Indeed, it makes the old new again; an energetic, rock-centric take on traditional Mexican song where Rodriguez jets through celebratory melodies; an ode to community that Rodriguez says made him feel accepted.

“We Grew, and We Are Astonished” slows things down, where dreamy acoustic guitar arpeggios underlie Matsuzaki’s childlike vocals that read, in their entirety: “You’re a star/I’m a star/And here’s how we became them/We said/Are you ready to go straight to video?” “Our Philosophy is Fiction” is more nightmarish, describing false, performative expressions like “simulated dancing” and “artificial crying” before fading into a haunting drone.

The closer, “Divine Comedy,” is a perfect encapsulation of Actually, You Can (and Deerhoof for that matter) as a whole. One second it’s all thunderous drums and power chords, the next its soft dream pop, then a lo-fi funk guitar breakdown, an extended math rock jam, before finishing with a flurry of shrill guitar leads. It’s so all over the place, moving from section to section without a moment’s hesitation, flooded with colorful sounds and indiscriminate with its choice of genre influences. And yet, it somehow works. Maybe that’s the magic of Deerhoof: taking contrasting ideas and forcing them to interact. Actually, You Can is a testament to the human spirit and the seemingly endless creativity of four people. It’s also a welcome addition to rock’s most diverse catalogue. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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