Deerhoof: Miracle Level (Joyful Noise) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 29th, 2024  

Deerhoof

Miracle Level

Joyful Noise

Mar 31, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


For the better part of three decades, experimental DIY quartet Deerhoof have been pushing the boundaries of rock music. Through a mixture of virtuosic musicianship and seemingly endless creativity, the band has complied an impressively consistent catalogue. They’re the combination of Greg Saunier’s frantic, innovative drumming, John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez’s intricate guitar work, and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s childlike, idiosyncratic vocals. 2021’s Actually, You Can was a joyous explosion of noise, full of bright and vibrant songs that acted as a panacea to a year spent in gloomy lockdowns. It was also the product of a recording process deeply constrained by the pandemic, where members had to record their parts separately before stitching together a competed record.

As one familiar with the band might expect at this point, Miracle-Level is a left turn into another alley. In a way, it’s an album of firsts. One is that Matsuzaki decided to write the whole album in her native Japanese, though the band provides English translations in the liner notes. Another is the decision to record and mix the album, front to back, in a studio with an outside producer, the kind of first that seems impossible for a band 19 albums into their catalogue. The man brought in for the task is Mike Bridavsky, who you may know as the owner of Russian Recordings or as the dude who helped record that one Defiance, Ohio record, or, most likely, as the adoptive father to the recently deceased celebrity cat Lil Bub, for whom “My Lovely Cat!” serves as fitting tribute.

The results are stunning. One of the highlights of the album cycle has been the band’s Twitter account releasing short videos documenting their recording process at Winnipeg’s No Fun Club, such as the multi-amp and microphone set-ups that created Matsuzaki’s crisp bass on the title track or Dieterich and Rodriguez’s fuzzy wall of guitars on “Everybody, Marvel.” Throughout the record, the band deploy these heavenly vocal harmonies that really complement the densely layered instrumentals beneath them. Matsuzaki’s high-pitched vocals, which have been described as shrill on some of their past records, are soothing here. Bridavsky’s mix masterfully balances clarity with volume, creating an album that sounds organic and inviting while still packing a punch when the songs demand it.

Compared to Actually, You Can, this is a mellower, more straightforward dose of Deerhoof. It’s an intentional choice, as the band wanted to record most of their parts together in the studio, which meant limiting the songs to what the members could play in the moment. After all, this is the first time in years the band has been able to record together in person, and that collaborative spirit carries throughout the entire record. If Saunier is playing piano, another member takes over on the kit. Dieterich and Rodriguez play off one another, sometimes dueling complementary guitar parts and while other times synchronizing their forces. Saunier even takes vocal duties on the album closer, “Wedding, March, Flower,” though that decision is kind of a head scratcher as Matsuzaki’s soft soprano seems to be tailor made for its tender piano ballad instrumental.

Like most Deerhoof albums, Miracle-Level is made compelling through its contrasts. From the triplet guitar waltz that opens Miracle-Level to the tender ballad that closes it, the band cycles through an array of genres, structures, and influences. Take the title track, which opens as a soft piano ballad, morphs into a jazzy keyboard swing before shifting again into an atmospheric, strung out guitar lead. “My Lovely Cat!” pairs choppy verses and wailing guitars with a dreamy pop chorus. The heavenly “ahh’s” and “ooh’s” that open “And the Moon Laughs” lie atop synchronized, distorted guitar triplets and Saunier’s barbaric bangs on the kit. On the fringes, “Jet-Black Double-Shield” and “Momentary Art of Soul!” descend into noisy chaos.

Read the translations and you’ll find Matsuzaki’s lyrics are as sparse, poignant, and absurdist as ever. The aforementioned “My Lovely Cat!” bills itself as a Bub tribute but the back half of the song conveys a universal desire for those that we love to never pass on and leave us. “Phase-Out All Non-Miracles By 2028” offers optimism as it comments “luckily, there aren’t that many.” As for the absurd, good luck parsing “Well I am not your slave/Become ice cream then!/The moon knows/It lights up a road that’s not a road/And the moon laughs.” At one point she even asks, “I like this song/It’s very good, isn’t it?”

In less capable hands, this sonic goulash could sound incoherent or sloppy, but that’s the magic of Deerhoof; they take all of these disparate elements and somehow transfigure them into cohesive songs. At its core, Miracle-Level is a celebration of the human spirit, one that offers optimism and wonder in the face of pessimism and hopelessness. It’s a little miracle in and of itself. (www.deerhoof.website)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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