There would be many ready to turn their nose up at a covers album released in 2020. Whilst lone cover tracks are fitting to fill the odd live set, there’s never been more concern over artists creating their own content. This is in stark contrast to the bygone eras of Elvis or Sinatra when all anyone cared about was the presence of their idol’s new material. With all that in mind, however, if you’re going to do a covers album in 2020, you should probably take a leaf from how Deerhoof do theirs.
After accepting a spot at 2019’s Time:Spans contemporary music festival in New York, the four-piece needed a set able to acclimate itself to the other avant-garde or extreme classical artists that comprised the bill. Chancing upon David Graber’s essay, Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit, which derides the false prophets of capitalism who pervaded the post-World War II era, Greg Saunier and co. finally felt like they had something to say. Days after their performance, the band recorded their set in the studio for what would become their third full-length release of 2020.
Carrying on the momentum that Future Teenage Cave Artists (2020) established, Deerhoof have compiled a running medley of reinterpretations covering Gary Numan, John Williams, Kraftwerk and 40 other artists spanning the ‘50s-‘80s, thus, repurposing music from Graber’s essay’s period of reference. Broken into five segments running 35 minutes, it’s a listen that makes you envious of those few who saw it in the flesh.
Opening with a mystical allure of Ornette Coleman’s “In All Languages”, the sudden and strident leering lead lick and thudding kick soon snaps you to attention. Bearing the tension of a ticking time bomb, it all ultimately explodes with a raucous calamity in the vein of the Oh Sees.
Voivod’s “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems” sees vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuki’s nasally vocals delivering the devil that had been teased with tension all along. Overt power chords that rock to-and-fro once again arrest in true math-rock fashion befitting that of The Mars Volta, resolving into more spoken word prose taken from Earl Kim’s “Earthlight”. Petering out in a slowing staccato of call-and-response between vocalist and instrumentation, the track returns to the tempo it originated in.
Engaging in nostalgia’s power, the bass lick of Stu Phillips’ Knight Rider theme paired to overdriven 80s guitars feels instantly fun and familiar. However, it’s in Mastuki’s megaphone-sounding anti-capitalist rallying cries that make it all feel a little neo-futurist. Listing “anti-gravity sleds, force fields and tractor beams”, when paralleled against the soundtrack for a crime fighting car, Deerhoof engage Graber’s fine line of fiction and future expectations.
After indulging in the sonorous lead lick of the theme’s hook, a dissonant descendant down a chord progression endlessly holds, as if Terence Fletcher were conducting the band himself. The build is worthy when Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” completes the most entertaining section on the record.
Tied to its predecessor by a residue of crazed guitars, Love-Lore’s third track opens with the swirly, surf-rock guitars and wistful melodies of The Beach Boys’ “Wonderful”. Deerhoof prove their artistry by melding it with the contradictory brooding and looming intensity of Star Trek’s theme, “The Balance Of Terror”. Tied by the timbres used to reconstruct each track, the ability to osmose eeriness into “Wonderful” is something truly spellbinding. As vocals are isolated, there’s a vast mystery to the piece ready to reveal itself, akin to a storyline from Twin Peaks. Shrill, animalistic movements of lead guitar strike like a thief as the world of the downtempo backing track playing beneath it float by.
The 19-minute trip that follows opens with a theatrical ascend before diving into a grungy jam anchored by siren-style electronics and squealing lead guitars. Amid the unstable soundscape, Matsuki maintains a tempered vocal performance, declaring “we are the robots” like Kraftwerk once did, giving the sense of a ritualistic incantation. A sedate jazzy section of intermittent minimalist inflections replicates John Williams’ score for Close Encounters of The Third Kind, evoking the synchrony between drummer Saunier and guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez. You could imagine each sighting the other in understanding, waiting for the cue to attack.
Matsuki’s bass acts as the circuit breaker to the interplay, thrusting things into the funk-infused jam of Asha Puthli’s “Space Talk”. It twists back into a brooding Ennio Morricone score before another fat bassline leads a drum solo of sorts.
Hitting you with a nostalgic hook when you least expect it through The B-52’s “Song For A Future Generation”, Deerhoof once again imbue the underrated track with Japanese pop vocals and ‘60s psych rock guitars.
“O Astronauta” offers a ‘50s bossa nova-esque reprieve until a thunderous rage of pounding drums and guitars enter into a ‘70s prog groove. Following Graber’s spoken word piece querying “where are the flying cars”, The Jetsons theme song which runs next feels a little too on the nose. This is followed up by a further five minutes of jazzy extrapolations that feel empty relative to the material that preceded it.
The closing piece is the most moving of the lot. When Deerhoof’s layered wall of guitar sheen wipes your face off, there’s nowhere to hide from the heartbreak of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. Slowed down to a crawl befitting one marching to the gallows, it melds a euphoria as beautiful as it is tragic. Only mingling the main piece with intermittent melodies of Laurie Anderson’s “Example #22”, Deerhoof stay steady with the one song and gain everything from doing so.
In an interview with Sungenre just prior to the announcement of Love-Lore, Greg Saunier stated that “we should be having a collaboration with our elders who turned out to be the only ones who were telling the truth. And we should be having a collaboration with the young folks who really know what’s up and don’t have all of this conditioning that needs to be unlearned”. True to their word, Deerhoof have delivered an artwork that reflects these sentiments whilst reinvigorating some classic pieces with newfound purpose. This is a covers album well worth leaving prejudices aside to hear.