Scratch any experimental-rock musician and you’ll usually find mainstream urges lurking just below the surface; think about those sturdy Kiss covers by the Melvins, or the Madonna tribute members of Sonic Youth cranked out on “The Whitey Album,” credited to Ciccone Youth. Fans of the feisty San Francisco quartet Deerhoof recently gained similar insight via a limited-edition mixtape provided with pre-ordered copies of “The Magic,” the band’s 16th studio album. Included on the bonus release were such date-stamped gems as “Live to Tell” by Madonna (her again), Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away,” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”
Presumably Deerhoof had its collective tongue pressed loosely into its cheek while taping those loopy tributes, but listening to “The Magic,” whose 15 tracks were concocted from scratch during a seven-day stretch in an abandoned New Mexico office space, you definitely get a sense of exposed roots. Drummer Greg Saunier, in a press release, confirms that impression, describing the LP as reflecting “what we liked when we were kids — when music was magic — before you knew about the industry and before there were rules. Sometimes hair metal is the right choice.”
Yeah, you say, the band is prone to such comments, and it’s a sure bet nothing on “The Magic” could have been slipped into rotation among Poison, Ratt, and Whitesnake circa 1986. The itchy guitar twang and cannonball drumming that introduce opening track “The Devil and his Anarchic Surrealist Retinue” — along with a title lifted from the music critic Alex Ross’s citation of a Mikhail Bulgakov novel — are precisely the kind of kinetic egghead-gutbucket hybrid Deerhoof has always delivered dependably. That cut and the juddering closer, “Nurse Me,” bracket “The Magic” like an autograph.
Still, the more time you spend with this album’s lo-fi exuberance, the more you get a sense of Saunier, bassist-vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, and multi-instrumentalists John Dieterich and Ed Rodríguez having a ball. The earworm riff of java paean “Kafe Mania!”; the huffy boom-bap funk of “Life Is Suffering”; the TV-metal urgency of “Learning to Apologize Effectively,” urgent synths nicked from Bon Jovi; the claustrophobic electropop revamp of “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”; the power-pop jangle of “Plastic Thrills” — it’s all irresistible. Just before “Acceptance Speech,” in which Matsuzaki coos sincerely the road-warrior trope “we love to visit your towns,” you hear a snippet of studio laughter, but there’s no mistaking the sincere affection lurking within Deerhoof’s whimsical distortions.
Deerhoof performs at Brighton Music Hall June 24.
New and notable:
Anderson/Stolt, “Invention of Knowledge” Jon Anderson of Yes evokes his former band’s classic sound, spirit, and sprawl with guitarist Roine Stolt.
The Avett Brothers, “True Sadness” Programming, synths, and production flourishes lend this rootsy group a surprising modern sheen.
DJ Shadow, “The Mountain Will Fall” Original compositions with synths, horns, and woodwinds are featured on the hip-hop experimentalist’s first solo LP since 2011.
STEVE SMITHSteve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.