Deerhoof – “Mountain Moves” (2017)

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Indie rock/experimental pop outfit Deerhoof have been busy since forming back in 1994, releasing 14 studio albums, 2 EPs, and of course touring the world. The band has gone through a few lineup changes over the years but the current members are Satomi Matsuzaki (bass and vocals), Greg Saunier (drums and vocals), John Dieterich (guitar), and Ed Rodríguez (guitar). I don’t have a lot of experience with Deerhoof, only having listened to a few of their singles from past albums but I liked what I did hear. I remembered reading that they had come out with an album this year, so why not give them a shot with their latest and greatest, “Mountain Moves”.

As I listened to the album for the first time, there were at least two times I literally had to do a double-take to make sure I was listening to the same album. For starters, there is “Gracias a la Vida” which is a short operatic interlude near the front of the track listing. After that, “Palace of the Governors” had me totally confused with the upbeat orchestra in the beginning making me think I had stumbled across the Rocky soundtrack somehow. Those are the two biggest examples for me of something jarring occurring on this record, but really Deerhoof put a plethora of different sounds and song structures on “Mountain Moves”. Obviously, a lot of this has to do with the many featured artists that appear across the track listing. Out of the 15 songs on the album, 7 of them feature a different artist and I think all of them go over pretty damn well. My favorite of the day is Awkwafina with her rapped verses on “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You”, which bring some nice aggression to the mostly chill album.

There are aspects of Deerhoof that I found endearing on this album and am looking forward to revisiting on their earlier work. Satomi’s soft vocals are a real pleasure and she has such a unique voice. At the ending of the album, where Satomi sings with just a few piano chords backing her up, we get to hear her voice in a raw recording and the results are beautiful in my opinion. The instrumentation from the band is competent and the tones they achieve on the album are rich and full of great sounds. What really sets Deerhoof apart though, is their sense of experimentation and their variety of influences.

I am reminded right away of the song “Begin Countdown” which starts off like an electronic rock song from the band Battles but quickly changes into something else. I especially love the sloppy guitar solo on this song. I actually laughed when I first heard it because of how hilariously bad it sounds and then there is this big triumphant clash of sound after each failed attempt at the solo as if the most epic piece of music had just been played. Don’t get me wrong, Deerhoof is doing all of this deliberately and I get a big kick out of it.

There is a lot of reggae and funk influence all over this record, which is evident in the downstroked guitars on “Con Sordino”. I also really enjoy the horn section and fun vibe to the titular song “Mountain Moves”, in particular the way Satomi sings “Mountain” as “Mow-oon-ten”. Another standout song on the album for me is “Ay That’s Me”. I enjoy the quick and clean guitar riff that plays over the song and the chorus has a smooth and pretty vocal melody.

“Mountain Moves” is certainly a politically-conscious project, with some pretty empowering lyrics to those who may feel like their voice is not heard in today’s political climate. Plus, all of the proceeds from the album (before it was officially released) were donated to the Emergent Fund which was created in response to the 2016 U.S. elections for the benefit of minorities, LGBTQ, immigrants, and women among others. I’d say Deerhoof should get some props for that.

This was a really great album from Deerhoof, especially on the first listen where I had no idea where the next song would take me. There are a lot of good moments sprinkled across “Mountain Moves” and at least a couple of songs that I would consider great. Now, there are a few moments where the experimentation or songwriting fell flat for me like on “Freedom Highway” and “Palace of the Governors”. Still, “Mountain Moves” has sold me on Deerhoof as a band and I will be looking back through their long discography in the future.

8/10

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