Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Will Never Like: Deerhoof

Being someone who never wants to miss out on something good, I've spent years trying to get into Deerhoof. Since a lot of music and movies I like now I would have hated a few years ago, I had every reason to believe Deerhoof and myself were just bound click sooner or later. One day I would exclaim "I get it! I hear the great songs where once I only heard rote 'art-punk' and a tuneless Japanese woman screaming!"

It almost happened. After getting Apple O from the library for the third time, I opened my mind wide--Inland Empire/Captain Beefheart wide--and I heard something. There was an innocent and infectious energy in vocalist Satomi Matsukazi's voice that I hadn't heard before, and I became aware of the fact that many of the songs actually had nice little melodies, even if they seldom repeated. I dutifully placed the album on my iPod and got ready to embrace Deerhoof with open arms in a matter of weeks.

Of course that didn't happen. Apple O was one of those albums that never seemed to fit a mood of mine. Sure, there was the infrequent occasions when I wanted to hear something foreign to my normal listening habits, but even then I'd get sick of the album halfway through.

Certainly the Shonen Knife/Cibo Matto factor plays a part in my inability to enjoy the band. For those unfamiliar with either of the two bands mentioned, they were both symptomatic of the 90s hipsters tendency to fetishize cute Japanese people, especially cute Japanese girls. Cibo Matto were a duo who sang a ton of songs about food (Cibo Matto is Italian for "crazy food") and were fawned over by the usual suspects: Beastie Boys, Sean Lennon, Beck; Shonen Knife were a three piece all girl punk band who also sang about food a lot and were showered with praise by Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth, who treated them as if they were geniuses.

With Shonen Knife especially, this adoration reeked of patronization. Had the band been made up of three ordinary looking American teenage girls and released the same records, no one would have ever heard of them. It was the offensive notion that somehow Japanese people are purer and less self-conscious than us ugly Americans that fueled the fandom, and that I'm sure contributed to many of the performers at the first Pitchfork Festival referring to Satomi Matsuzaki as a "true rock star" when Deerhoof performed there a few years ago. In this specific hipster mindset, the worst crime would be to try to be a rock star, but a Japanese woman with boundless energy and stilted English certainly couldn't be trying to be anything but herself, right?

I don't want to make this the whole story about Deerhoof, but it's something that bothers me a lot and I find it hard not to imagine people enjoying the band on that level when I'm listening to them.

The new song "Chandelier Searchlight," whose video is above, is certainly less abrasive than a lot of the band's songs, and the chorus is charming, but ultimately it still leaves me feeling the same sort of blah as everything else I've heard from them. It's settled: I will never like Deerhoof.