It's great being avant garde. A heady existence. Dispense with the common verses-chorus structure and turn songs into adventures. It has undeniable appeal.
Improvisation always keeps it interesting. Creating sounds that possess only a scant relation to anything on the charts will ensure "artistic integrity'. The only rub is that a band will probably go broke trying it - and so will their label - if they have one.
Classically trained drummer Greg Saunier and guitarist/bassist Rob Fisk played an impressive '95 show in Olympia, WA, and got themselves signed by the local label Kill Rock Stars. They began recording - with no real budget. That can be a challenge.
A year later, the San Francisco duo realized that playing and singing was too much so they searched for a vocalist. They met Satomi Matsuzaki, a film student who had just arrived from her native Tokyo. Matsuzaki had no musical experience but she had a calm - childish voice.
Deerhoof released their debut album, "The Man, The King, The Girl," in '97. The album was submitted, then resubmitted several times until the band was finally satisfied with it. Matsuzaki picked up the bass and the group added Kelly Goode on keyboards. '98 saw the release of their "Holdy Paws" album. But then, Fisk and Goode left. Guitarist John Dieterich stepped in starting with '99's "Reveille."
During the "Reveille" sessions Deerhoof met Chris Cohen who eventually joined the group as the second guitarist. But just to illustrate the fluidity of the SF music scene, Saunier reciprocated by joining Cohen's band, the Curtains. Dieterich also began a side band, Natural Dreamers.
With Matsuzaki developing a commanding stage presence (who'd of thought it) Deerhoof released "Koalamagic" ('01), "Halfbird" ('01), "Apple 'O" ('03), "Milk Man" ('04), and the EP "Green Cosmos" ('05). On the latter, Matsuzaki sang many tracks in her native Japanese. The Runners Four" ('05) was more a double album, containing 20 tracks. Also, Matsuzaki and Cohen traded instruments on this effort. Following this set Cohen decided to focus solely on the Curtains. Deerhoof continued as a trio.
Though the group was garnering some critical attention, nobody was getting rich. Worse, both the group and Kill Rock Stars were in a deep financial hole. But Deerhoff scored a breakthrough with "Friend Opportunity." For this effort band members shared instrumental roles. Nobody was stuck on a single instrument. Also, the group moved away from their impressionistic songs and nudged a bit closer to the mainstream.
Guitarist Ed Rodriguez joined as full member prior to the group's opening slot on Radiohead's tour. Deerhoof released "Offend Maggie" in '08.
Deerhoof seems bound and determined to invent Post-Punk Cocktail Jazz. At their best, they sound like some demented New Wave group. At their worst, it's a convoluted din.
"The Perfect Me" and "The Galaxyist" are Deerhoof's shots of accessibility on "Friend Opportunity." But most of the time the group sounds discordant and challenging. Even though "Friend Opportunity " has many slow and mid-tempo songs, Deerhoof fills them with a cacophony.
Deerhoof are still unrepentant noise merchants on "Offending Maggie." Only here they have notched up the energy from "Friend Opportunity" and brought back the distorted guitars. Still, acoustic guitars and 'la-la-la' vocals run up against sounds that haven't been heard since Harry Partch.
It would be too easy to compare Matsuzaki's vocals to Yoko Ono's wailing but Matsuzaki demonstrates more control even with the esoteric bordering-on-nonsense lyrics. Still, her 'little girl voice' is not for everyone.