Deerhoof are not a band to let the grass grow under their collective feet. And twenty-three years since they formed in San Francisco, they are continuing to come up with new approaches to making music, and all the better for us, the listeners.
Last year’s album The Magic was mostly self-recorded in one week in an empty office building on the outskirts of Albuquerque. The approach for Mountain Moves couldn’t have been more different. The election of Donald Trump as US President is one of the factors that informed the making of their fourteenth (count ’em) studio album. Figuring that this was not a time for working in isolation, the band worked quickly on the album, but invited a number of guests to participate on the record. These include Awkwafina, Juana Molina, Matana Roberts, Xenia Rubinos, Jenn Wasner and Lætitia Sadier.
Deerhoof have – perhaps like Bjork – managed to combine an interest in the avant-garde and experimentalism with understanding pop music and the song. Maybe not in the way that manufactured pop puppets understand it – but that’s their loss, not ours or Deerhoof’s. The first track to be unveiled from the album, back in June, was ‘I Will Spite Survive (a track of the day here at God Is In The TV). It stands as one of the best tracks released this year – and gave an excellent insight into what the album might actually sound like. Featuring vocals from Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, the release of the track (not for the last time) was accompanied by a strongly-worded statement in which the band said: ‘In this world of tyrants and CEOs seemingly hellbent on achieving the termination of our species, perhaps the most rebellious thing we could do is not die.’
That statement sums up the album in a nutshell. Yes, Deerhoof are -understandably – concerned about the state of the world as it is in 2017. But they’re encouraging us not to go down without a fight. For an album born out of such anger, this is not a hard listen nor a depressing experience. Given that the collaborations on this album, mixed with some covers (more about those later), it’s a record that in lesser hands could have ended up a well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing aural mess. Instead of which, over the course of three-quarters of an hour (quality not quantity, boys and girls), it’s like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in terms of listenable treats.
There’s three covers on the album – Chilean Violeta Parra‘s Gracias a la Vida, The Staple Singers‘ ‘Freedom Highway‘ and most notably, Bob Marley’s ‘Small Axe.’ The track originally appeared on Marley’s 1973 album, Burnin‘. Here the track is changed from the upbeat reggae number, and stripped of its religious leanings, though musically appears more as a hymn of defiance and unity:
‘These are the words
Of my master,
No weak heart Shall prosper,
And whosoever diggeth a pit,
Shall fall in it, shall fall in it
If you are the big tree
We are the small axe
Ready to cut you down
to cut you down.’
It sums up the spirit of the album, which must surely be a contender for one of the year’s best albums.