By Russell Warfield
I’m going to write this review based on the presumption that you’ve been broken up with at least once. This is a record you need to hear. One of the few consistencies in the trajectory of Deerhoof is their continual restlessness in arrangement and their scattershot approach to moving from A to B to A to D to J in terms of song structure. But with Breakup Song, Deerhoof have found (whether or not they were looking – I doubt that they were) a robust conceptual framework to unify their sideways lurches and firecracker ideagasms. “When you say it’s all over…” the album begins. And so, while a great many Deerhoof albums were unified by little more than a willingness to follow its own contradictory whims on a song-by-song, bar-by-bar basis, Breakup Song manages to do exactly the same thing musically, but does so while conveying an interesting impression of the volatile, erratic state of post-break up emotions. For a band so all over the place, it’s an unexpectedly brilliant snapshot of feeling.
Beginning, as I say, at the end of the saga but the beginning of the story with the phrase “when you say it’s all over…”, Satomi Matsuzaki’s snatches of repeated childlike lyricism and melody find themselves at their strongest within the bewildered context of the recently rejected. From this opening scene-setter, we move to the nihilistic self-pity of “there’s that grin, making me fall in love with you again” in ‘That Grin’, to defiance: “now I am going dancing, if you would care to join me” on ‘Zero Seconds Pause’, before finally to the serene “I declare the war over” in the closing ‘Fete D’Adieu’. I’d never go so far as to say that Breakup Song was exactly cathartic, but it certainly offers a sense of completeness rarely delivered by Deerhoof (let alone by thirty minute candy-rush albums), and transforms Matzusaki’s sometimes-irritating nursery rhyme approach into something far more resonant and emotive.
What’s all the better about this is that Breakup Song finds Deerhoof at their most musically alive in many years. Throughout each song, ideas explode into the foreground every few seconds: zippy key changes and switch-up rhythmic shifts into syncopation erupting into action at the most unexpected (yet opportune) moments, creating a rush of music which sounds uplifting and joyous, despite its accurate documentation of the collapse of a relationship. Haven’t you, after all, felt oddly elated after the sudden collapse of partnership? But, don’t get complacent – Deerhoof aren’t – here come the searing guitars, just for a few seconds, at the end of ‘To Fly Or Not To Fly’ to remind you of your sadness – ah, fuck it – I mean to say your bitterness. Indeed, the emotional hodgepodge of the post break-up state is so brilliantly conveyed in Breakup Song – even as it thrives off elation throughout most of its running time, sounding way hookier than they even usually do – that its overstuffed half hour thrillingly compresses into a writhing ecstasy/agony of competing ideas and feelings, with track dividers becoming all but arbitrary by the time it arrives at its back end. Such is the uprooted, dozy feeling.
If you’ve been broken up with recently, Breakup Song acts as an upliftingly reassuring remedy. If you’ve been broken up with in the distant-ish past, Breakup Song stands as a nostalgic ode to feeling blue, even while you’re now detached enough to rationally concede that you needed the eggs. And – perhaps to put it most basically – if you’ve ever admired Deerhoof, Breakup Song towers as a testament to how hyper-inventive and exhilarating they can be in recording, as well as adding an extra layer of conceptualism to their output, and deepening a certain emotional resonance to their music which, I for one, did not see coming. Just like that break up.