Deerhoof

    {grate 3.5/4}

    This is where the ’Hoof go acoustic. After a string of solid full-lengths, from the bare-bones chaos of Apple O to the honed pop-noise craft of last year’s Friend Opportunity, kid-friendly Japanese singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, drum spazz Greg Saunier, electric trickster John Dieterich and new guitar-guy Ed Rodriguez take the troupe back to a four-piece with their ironically subdued ninth album, Offend Maggie.

    The album cover says it all: a pencil sketch of a shirtless (and faceless) man posing with his leg propped on a chair. Stiffer restraint and convention are the new directions Deerhoof unconsciously decide on for this go-round — while Maggie marks new heights of accessibility that may sting fans of the damaged-cartoon themes in “Panda” or “Milkman,” the indie-pop foursome still holds it down.

    Their newfound natural tones are best represented in the title track, which pairs religiously fingerpicked guitar with Matsuzaki and Saunier’s effortless vocal harmonies, all sandwiched between their trademark electric crunch. But it feels almost too effortless, like the prodigy children got self-aware and lazy amid the creative process, always knowing that the end-product would still be catchy at the very least. “Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back” revisits the overt cuteness of past Deerhoof fame but forgets the noise factor, essentially neutering their winning formula and leaving behind little more than pleasant novelty.

    The blend of innocence and perversion on “My Purple Past” starts with rock chug and moves to Satomi’s harmless trills, finally reaching a quiet revelation that rises to an orchestrated climax. Sadly, that potent gem is followed by the mildly awkward “Family of Others,” which finely showcases Saunier’s breathy voice, but ends up evoking the wispiness of a cheesy folk group, ever-accentuated by ascending harmonies.

    Although Maggie may not be as immediate as its classic predecessors, many of its tracks keep the weird Deerhoof spirit intact and exude a playfulness no other band could ever hope to imitate.

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