Deerhoof are an endlessly fascinating band assuming you're a fully baptised member of the tribe who enjoy their music. They're the sort of group who elicit extreme reactions from listeners: you either love them or hate their guts and the guts of the people who listen to them. I don't think of Deerhoof as an extremely experimental band but I have a very skewed perspective. I think it's easy for people like me to forget that bands like the Fiery Furnaces and Animal Collective sound like absolute, intolerable, and pretentious crap to most people. At any rate, if you've never liked Deerhoof before, Offend Maggie will do nothing to change your mind, so you may as well just click away from this review right now and I'll count to five before continuing.
....five. OK, the haters are gone.
Offend Maggie is a mighty fine Deerhoof album. I was more than pleased to hear that the band had added another guitarist to their fold while recording the album because, in my opinion, the band functions best with two guitarists. Deerhoof's sound started to congeal into something interesting with Reveille in 2002. But it was with their next two albums, Apple O' and Milk Man, in 2003 and 2004, recorded after Chris Cohen joined, that they really started to record some great stuff. I still hold The Runners Four as their high point, being a fascinating and sprawling double album and all, but moreso I think it was because they sounded like a band. When Cohen left, their next album, Friend Opportunity, became a lean collection of experimental pop that simultaneously expanded both the band's pop and experimental sides. It's an odd album by any standard, with almost a third of its length given over to the final track, which was an 11 minute epic. Though I like Friend Opportunity, it sounded like a studio album made with little regard for live performances. Watching the now-threesome version of Deerhoof perform shortly after its release, they felt a bit limited. They did a good job of pulling off some of the older material even with only one guitarist, but Friend Opportunity was a bit too ambitious for its own good. 'Kidz Are So Small' doesn't quite translate well to the stage when the same guy playing the odd samples and keyboards has to play the guitar parts, too.
Offend Maggie is a return to the classic two guitarist Deerhoof sound and I welcome it with open arms. The more time that goes on, the more I think of The Runners Four as a masterpiece, so it's good to see the band...well, not returning to that sound, but hearkening back to it. At the same time, while Offend Maggie isn't as good as The Runners Four, it is a musical feast for fans of the band. The emphasis on this album is definitely on the instruments, from the clashing-and-interlocking guitars, bouncing Paul McCartney-esque bass lines, and the ultimate secret weapon of the band, the controlled chaos of Greg Saunier's drums. Deerhoof does their 'spastic prog rock, stop on a dime' stuff here better than ever. However, the downside of all this is that the vocals and lyrics are buried. I'm a fan of Satomi's voice beyond the surface "hey, listen to that weird Japanese chick sing random stuff!!" enjoyment of hipster irony-nauts, so it's a bit sad that I can't really tell what she's singing most of the time. Meanwhile, Saunier continues to deliver his one or two vocal turns per album with 'Family Of Others'; much like his drumming, his voice is a secret weapon for the band, with his child-like innocence and Brian Wilson-esque register.
When the initial excitement of a new Deerhoof album wears off, the inevitable conclusion is reached: it's just another Deerhoof album. You can't fault a band for sounding like themselves, but Offend Maggie is, in the end, Deerhoof doing Deerhoof. This album features some incredible songs but it would be hard to argue that there's anything entirely new about it. Again, this is not a bad thing, but Offend Maggie features some now-standard Deerhoof tropes from albums past, with the annoying/unlistenable song ('This Is God Speaking'), the repetitive-but-addictive song ('Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back'), the epic album closer ('Jagged Fruit'), and the awesome song that doesn't get the praise it deserves ('Buck and Judy'). While Offend Maggie does offer some new tidbits (the acoustic guitar intro to the title track, the sly use of pianos/keyboards here or there) this isn't really an album about change. This is a 'consolidate lessons you've learned' kind of release, putting the emphasis on band dynamics, interplay, and "let's do what we do best" songwriting. This makes for an easy, compulsive listen. Kinda like Wilco's Sky Blue Sky or Radiohead's In Rainbows in that regard, two albums that didn't do anything new but were nevertheless really damn good.
So where does this leave us?? Well, if you're a fan of Deerhoof--which I assume you are if you made it this far into this review--you should rush out immediately and buy this album. It's another great album from a band who've been on a winning streak for five years. Those of you non-fans who've made it this far into my review, well, you won't like Offend Maggie and are best served by giving Friend Opportunity or The Runners Four a try, albums that are a bit more welcoming to newcomers but still have all the elements of Deerhoof that will either excite or sicken you.