The problem with setting your stall out as DIY punk futurologists is that eventually you live long enough to see how most of it pans out. Certainly this is true of San Franciscan racket merchants Deerhoof, who formed in 1994 and have spent the subsequent two-and-a-half decades devising and then tearing up templates for what an indie rock song might sound like. In that time they’ve witnessed a montage of horrors – social media, President Trump, the last two Animal Collective records.
Album number 16 find the band – founding drummer Greg Saunier, Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich and Ed Rodríguez – as fascinated as ever by the blurry slideshow of history. They’ve also made one of their sharpest-sounding records in at least a decade. If 2017’s ‘Mountain Moves’ was a Bosch triptych, rich in melody and tasteful eclecticism, ‘Future Teenage Cave Artists’ mostly benefits from a simpler palette.
That’s not to say there isn’t variety on show. It wouldn’t be a Deerhoof album if there wasn’t a barrage of unexpected riffs, squeals and feedback littered across most tracks, as well as a few madcap lyrical excursions. “Why would you shoot my Bambis?” Matsuzaki asks on ‘New Orphan Asylum For Spirited Deerchildren’, before embarking on a series of dramatic stylistic detours through abrasive psych-rock and jazz-inflected minimalism. “What did my Bambis do to you?”
The record was recorded through a built-in laptop microphone and, well, it shows. The likes of ‘Sympathy For The Baby Boo’ and ‘O Ye Saddle Babes’ share the same essential Deerhoof recipe, dropping handfuls of candy-pink melodies amid the sawdust and panic. Occasionally the austere recording process gives way to outright mayhem, as on ‘Farewell” Symphony’, which sounds like the theme to a ‘90s Channel 4 sports digest that mainly runs highlights of competitive PCP smoking. It’s a little much at times.
But beneath all the noise and whiplash-inducing tempo changes, there’s a pure heart beating through ‘Future Teenage Cave Artists’. The album closes with ‘I Call On Thee’, an off-the-cuff exercise in piano melancholy that keeps vaguely threatening to break into Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. For a moment it sounds like the album is going to end on a dissonant chord, before unexpectedly resolving at the final reckoning, surrendering to peace.
Future civilisations may struggle to interpret the art that Deerhoof leave behind – contemporary critics have a hard enough time – but it should be noted that our world was nonetheless richer for it.
Release date: May 29
Record label: Joyful Noise