he back cover of Green Cosmos, the new EP from America’s reigning force in overdriven ghost-chaos jigsaw-pop Deerhoof, depicts four chubby rodents (are they hamsters? Guinea pigs? Badgers?) taking apart a gray building made of pipe organ tubes against a pencil-sketched backdrop of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Usually, I’d hate to capitalize on analogies like this, but it’s slapping me in the face: their deconstruction of the organ/building is playful and curious, but their furry faces show a blank reserve. The city smokes mutely in the background, and slowly, they’re taking out the cogs of the drab musical machine, turning the tubes into teething devices and spears. It would be more adorable if it weren’t so spooky, it would be more approachable if it wasn’t so weird: welcome to the surreal joys of Deerhoof.
Strap on your coordinated fannypack and flip-flops for “Green Cosmos” which sweats enough mustard, mindless entertainment, and suntan lotion for an entire queasy afternoon at the amusement park. A globetrotting orgy of club-certified bongos tumbles around the duet of singer Satomi Matsuzaki and a morbidly obese synth-organ tooting gauzily away, raising the roof when the sky’s the limit, swaddled awkwardly by some drunk-in-the-afternoon bumblings of an electric piano and requisite celeste-like tinkling. Of course, this is Deerhoof, and the fun-loving synths finally hear the monster’s call of sunset, barreling into rambunctious discord, derailing rollercoasters and indiscriminately swallowing handfuls of already disappointed young children.
It’s a hilariously enjoyable song, but whether they’re in transition (which sounds entirely probable given the song’s loose aural kinship with New Directions in Deerhoof like the superior electro-squelch-lounge of Milk Man’s “Desapareceré”), or it is lacking in some unidentifiable way, “Green Cosmos” is frustrating because it wipes away so much of what makes the band recognizable. I can’t hate on them for trying something new (or in this case, weirdly straightforward)—because it basically works. Similarly, “Spiral Golden Town” is a camelback party trek through starry nights, a 50’s-style ballad/kitsch hump-dance funked out with wah-wahing multifilters and a middle-eastern fanfare sparkling in its cool caverns. Their novelty isn’t blanketly enthralling or disappointing, and there’s a kind of tact in mixing this direction in with more easily logical material. Really, it remains to be seen, but with the generally high quality material—not to mention evolution—on their last three records (Reveille, Apple O’, and Milk Man), it’s curious to hear gears switched so unceremoniously.
“Malalauma” drifts in the spooky snow-globe balladry of some of their best work. An ice-blue guitar arpeggio cradles Matsuzaki’s errant coo; the song breathes in near-jazz rubato before slipping into inimitable and gorgeous tensions. Guitars ratchet slowly up to consonance, finding no security in Greg Saunier’s searching drum stumblings, and towards the end, the song bursts into tangled desperation, an unidentifiable voice climbing to the top of a spiraling mess. What’s endlessly touching about the band’s less immediate spasms is that they make the most of their obvious stereotypes—a balance of J-Popping, big-eyed cutesiness and crushing, dynamic riffage—while also leaving them behind. The thesis, antithesis: synthesis! dialectic machine is hardly foolproof, but in Deerhoof’s case, years of practice refining this binary has left them with a mounting pile of gorgeous residue, e.g. “Apple Bomb” on Apple O’, or “C” from last year’s Milk Man—spectral songs that sputter and shudder eerily, whose dreamlike thrills occasionally verge on a candle-lit uncanny.
Everywhere else, Green Cosmos is simply well-polished Deerhoof. The explosive “Come See The Duck” is a time-capsule example of what a lot of people love and probably even more hate about the band: a one minute-six second landmine ballet of shredding guitars and thunderous drums, paradoxically tight-reigned and utterly cacophonous. Oh yeah, and it’s punctuated by a diminutive Japanese woman whose voice ping-pongs between impossibly distant intervals, bleating, entreating you to, well, “come see the duck.” Or the Saturday morning jazz-swagger interlude of “Hot Mint Air Balloon,” which is without a doubt good, but with six songs in under fifteen minutes, it’s a lot easier to pay attention to the more substantial material on the EP. Green Cosmos is a good snack, and it demonstrates the diversity of Deerhoof’s sound; it’s a win-win situation, though the victory will probably be a minor footnote in an increasingly more robust catalog. A band as idiosyncratic as this do well in branching out, and even if their new directions prove fruitless, they still haven’t ceased exploring what makes them so unusual and special.