For a couple of years now, Deerhoof has been reigning in its oddball audio antics in search of a more accessible but still outsider sound. After exploring melody on a couple of records, the band finally took those melodies and placed them in a pop format -- albeit one doomed to stay outside popular music audiences -- on last year's "Friend Opportunity." This year's "Offend Maggie" takes a much more rockist approach, without leaving the quirks behind, no doubt in part due to the addition of guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ed Rodriguez to the core of bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, drummer and founder Greg Saunier, and guitarist John Dieterich.
With the circuitry absent from this record, "Offend Maggie" finds Deerhoof embracing riff-centric classic rock influences like the Who and AC/DC without abandoning its wildly experimental avant-fusion-pop past. The album explodes from the get with "The Tears of Music and Love," but while the song finds the band rocking out, they do so without a wall of sound, leaving plenty of space between the notes and instruments to let them all come out. "Chandelier Searchlight" follows with more pop but remains rock and demonstrates what Deerhoof does better than what most avant-garde and neo-prog rockers with a penchant for twisting their instruments do, that is, keep things interesting with their changes of pace. Third track "Buck and Judy" slows the record down but remains decidedly rock with percussion that hearkens the powerful-yet-lazy beat of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks," only more deliberate. It's not the only time the band reminisces Zep on this album. The soothing, poppy intro to "Fresh Born" quickly gives way to quirky picking and then a riff reminiscent of the opening strains of "Good Times Bad Times." But this is in no stretch a Led Zeppelin-aping sound. After going back and forth from outsider pop to restrained classic rock, the song culminates with one of the album's brilliant-but-brief bursts of bombast. Another such outburst follows in the middle of "Eaguru Guru," which keeps the rock and roll tempo alive.
Despite the fret focus that sets the album apart from prior Deerhoof releases, the Keith-Moon-minus-the-car-in-the-pool drumming of Saunier and the cartoonish little girl vocals of Matsuzaki still drive the record and define the sound. Matsuzaki even baffles with the lyrics on "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back," sounding like some brand new fan turned ultimate cheerleader.
And while "Offend Maggie" has a harder edge than most Deerhoof work, those changes of pace are what keep it even more interesting than the band's style already is. "Snoopy Waves" is a brief Scooby snack of more familiar Deerhoof work; the title track, underscored by acoustic picking, is a pretty and powerful ditty; and the male vocals on "Family of Others" calls to mind the harmonizing of the Beach Boys.
Deerhoof brings its less-offensive "Maggie" to Nightclub 9:30 Sunday night.