Deerhoof are amongst the finest acts in indie rock; building a reputation in the 2000s and sustaining their status right through to 2017 — but 20 years since their debut album, and the San Fransisco-born band are still vastly under-appreciated in the grand scheme of things. After all these years, it’s practically a given that charming noise pop doesn’t come much sweeter than Deerhoof, and the level of consistency they have achieved is almost unprecedented — you’d have to look at a band as gigantic as Radiohead to even start comparisons.
If the Deerhoof catalogue lacks anything, it’s probably that one essential album that will keep listeners hooked for decades to come. Mountain Moves, their 14th studio album, isn’t the crucial masterstroke we crave, but it is another vastly enjoyable dose of entertaining indie rock. Deerhoof cram dozens of ideas into a 40-minute album, which is not only technically impressive, but thoroughly amusing.
Mountain Moves is a protest album at heart, yet it overflows with a spirit that is both defiant and joyous. The whole thing can feel disconnected, sometimes confusing, though always tremendously fun, and the range of featured artists only add to the delight. Even without their friends, Deerhoof form a party from a protest, engaging in different styles and genres of music on the journey. They dabble in hip-hop on “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You”, fire up a space-funk party on “Palace of the Governors”, and fashion a wonderful Latin-American opera interlude in the form of “Gracias a la Vida”. If it sounds nuts, that’s because it is.
Remarkably, Deerhoof make it work. Everything is executed with a splendid swagger, particularly the tail-end garage rock highlight “Kokoye”. Mountain Moves has a buoyant energy that flows right until it’s delicate closing track, a tender cover of Bob Marley’s “Small Axe”, which reminds you that, amongst the amusement, this is still a protest album after all. And a fine one at that.
8 out of 10
This was wacky, but seldom contrived. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard something so delighted to be doing whatever it damn well pleased. There’s a twinkle to Mountain Moves that’s genuinely endearing, if sometimes trying. The production and general sound is great, every instrument and vocal brimming with colour. “Come Down Here & Say That” showcases this particularly well, rattling cheerfully through about eight different genres, as does “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You”.
If the context wasn’t so flamboyant, I’d find “Palace of the Governors” rather magisterial. It’s a really rich symphonic piece. The backhanded serenity of “Singalong Junk” holds me in contempt, no doubt, but I like it all the same. I believe in cheerful contempt. There are hip, spritely moments throughout, it’s just that conversely, and perhaps inevitably, Mountain Moves is oddly exhausting.
The record needs some pretty specific concentration to be properly indulged. Its frenetic approach, while endearing, does wear thin. It’d be nice if the group stuck with a good thing for more than 40 seconds. And yet I’d be lying if I said the 40 second spells didn’t amount to something well worth a listen or two.
7 out of 10
Mountain Moves does anything but rest on its laurels. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, this 15-track album flies along and doesn’t stop throwing new ideas into the mix. Tinges of hip-hop, orchestral opera, and jazz sax are just some of the unexpected, all executed with success, aplomb and cohesion. “Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You” is a particular favourite, encompassing many of the best things about the album. With a spoken verse, contrasted totally by a relatively meagre chorus and an infectious hook, the song covers a considerable amount of ground, and does so effortlessly.
However, with such a deep variety in sound, the constant change of pace can often make for an almost blurry, cartoonish quality. The title track is one example, as the band show off a more experimental side to their sound, whilst leading into the bluesy, chirpy “Freedom Highway”. Deerhoof haven’t produced an album that blatantly protests and opposes overtly, but a lot of the writing reacts to the right-wing political success in the United States. The fact that you can go several listens without being particularly aware of the political side of the album is a testament to how well woven together each track is.
It’s an album of many sides, and it doesn’t give itself a chance to stay too long. This makes for a slower burn next to its contemporaries, but that’s not necessarily a detractor. I feel as though I still have more to get out of this album. So far, Mountain Moves has been a good deal of fun to listen to, and it will definitely get more play time. Who knows, perhaps it could even be a dark horse once the end of year lists roll up in December.
7 out of 10