For 20 years, Deerhoof has written restless, explosive, oddly-shaped songs that still accommodate pop’s basics: pretty melodies and words about love. Their discography — especially the visionary stretch from Reveille to The Runners Four — is like an experiment in trying to make difficult music in the most charming way possible. For the past few years, they’ve been transitioning: Guitarist Chris Cohen left in 2006; and after one album as a trio, the band added multi-instrumentalist Ed Rodriguez.
Despite these lineup shifts, Deerhoof remain inescapably Deerhoof: They’ll never sound like anyone else. But what was once more or less garage rock in a food processor now features salsa horns (“There’s That Grin”), synthesizers (“Bad Kids to the Front”), and a newfound sense of what to do with processed drums (“Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III”). The changes don’t dilute their sound as much as expand its possibilities. “Accessibility” has always been a relative quality in Deerhoof’s music: If you eat sand every day, the occasional piece of paper might taste pretty good. Breakup Song is a clever title in part because it sounds like a description of what Deerhoof has always done: taken what might be otherwise accessible songs and broken them up into thousands of little parts. Over the past few albums, though, they’ve mellowed (also a relative term) — a few songs here even make it from start to finish without changing their time signature.
Matsuzaki is not a deep lyricist. “Panda panda panda panda pan,” reads a verse from 2002′s sensibly titled “Panda Panda Panda” — “bye bye.” But her deliberate lack of eloquence is also her way of being direct. “Ready for a love,” she sings on “Fete d’Adieu.” “Ready to be tough. As a robot on the dancefloor. A muscle in the heart.” It’s a hint that the steadiness in her voice was not particularly easy to come by. Even their flashiest, weirdest songs are counterbalanced with simple emotional statements. It’s a neat distraction technique: They do crazy tricks with one hand and punch you in the stomach with the other.
Nothing on Breakup Song stays around for long. Even the gorgeous, restful passages that end “Fete d’Adieu” and “Mothball the Fleet” cycle once or twice, then stop. For all their experiments, Deerhoof is ultimately a tidy, strong-willed band that knows the perfect word only needs to be said once. If they seem impatient, it’s the wondrous impatience of children: They know how much there is to be done.