It feels almost too on the nose for Deerhoof to release an album titled The Magic. The frantic, fearsome noise-pop quartet blends buzzy aggression and featherlight pop with such cheeky abandon that sometimes their songs feel like capers they’ve barely pulled off. Fourteen albums in, Deerhoof is still pulling it off. This is dream pop with a stubborn streak; they’ll carefully construct intricate, glittery melodies only to plow through them with chainsaws and existential crises minutes later. That push and pull—the sparkle followed by the crash—that’s where Deerhoof’s magic resides.
Satomi Matsuzaki is the band’s primary vocalist, but every band member shows up singing somewhere here—Matsuzaki, of course, drummer Greg Saunier, and guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez all contribute vocals at different points on the album. But Dieterich singing alone on “Dispossessor” and Rodriguez handling vocals solo on “That Ain’t No Life To Me” both sound forlorn, not quite up to speed. Even when accompanied by Saunier, it’s Matsuzaki voice that helms thirteen out of the fifteen tracks, and the coo of her vocals against the band’s often screeching noise allows each song to coalesce. Deerhoof, really, is encapsulated by Matsuzaki’s doe-eyed, rascally tendency to hijack the song’s focus even while a million other musical mechanisms unfold around her–a single, still creature in an erupting meadow of noise. The interplay between her soothing vocal style and the rest of the band’s layered, manic shifts further indicates the tension at the heart of the band’s sound.
The Magic is the result of seven days spent in a recording studio in the New Mexico desert, and like most Deerhoof albums, it’s equally full of heady allusions and nonsensical phrases; it dances back and forth between esoteric and earnest. “Nurse Me” rides a manic scooter of Freudian bliss around blasts of fuzzed-out guitar freneticism, while another, more serene track—“I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire”—details a life of quiet domesticity in garbled lullabye brevity. “The song is waiting for another song,” Matsuzaki sings on “Learning To Apologize Effectively,” creating a kinship between tracks that anthropomorphizes them, casts music itself as lonely or full of longing. But this is music complex enough to suggest sentience: Maybe this song really is waiting patiently to become part of a pair, an apology craving a form of forgiveness. This sentiment, at once philosophically and deliciously childlike, digs ever deeper into Deerhoof’s winning embrace of dichotomy.
Though the title may suggest simplicity, this album is never reductionist, from the bombastic opening track, “The Devil And His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue,” to early standout, “Life Is Suffering.” For a song about the inherent, painful nature of life, “Life Is Suffering” bursts with a lot of joy. Matsuzaki’s voice goes off like a sparkler in the rain, and the song is the epitome of catharsis, like popping a balloon at the birthday party of someone you hate. Amid the din, an immense sense of calm descends, as though the band has learned that rebellion is best expressed within the confines of acquiescence. We’re guaranteed that suffering is here to stay, why not make room for it to rest peacefully in our hearts? The magic, really, is holding the joy and suffering in the same hand, gleefully singing along to a song about pain. Life is suffering, man–let’s sing about it anyway.