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Review: On ‘Miracle-Level,’ Deerhoof leaves its comfort zone

“Miracle-Level” by Deerhoof (Joyful Noise Recordings) On their 19th album, Deerfhoof remains as playful and experimental as ever. The title of the first track on “Miracle-Level” serves as a polite command, “Sit Down, Let Me Tell You a Story,” and this oddball, guitar-driven release merits attention throughout.

The band self-produced its first 18 releases before deciding to try something different. In 2022, they brought in producer Mike Bridavsky to take themselves out of their home-recording comfort zone and into the studio. The impact is most notable in the spare instrumentation and the punchy garage band-feel of the guitars.

On first listen, the album is like a visit to an unfamiliar city — it feels anarchic and unstructured until the listener has some time to acclimate to its rules and norms. But the band is a musical microculture unto itself, and within two or three songs, the unique logic of Deerhoof starts to fall into place.

Singer and bass-player Satomi Matsuzaki was born in Japan, and “Miracle-Level” is the first Deerhoof release sung entirely in her native language. Japanese poetry and songwriting leans away from simple rhyming couplets (think “remember” and “September”). On “Everybody, Marvel,” for example, the band offers more impressionistic imagery: “view through a distorted, broken window/ a comfortable filter” The freeform lyrical structure further liberates the band from familiar song formats.

Deerhoof tends to toggle between apocalyptic fatalism and childlike wonder, and “Miracle-Level” is an album that focuses mostly on small miracles. “My Lovely Cat!” is a frenetic slice of feline life that channels a catnip-addled brain. The title track, “Miracle-Level,” declares, “we need only love songs.” The song “Phase Out All Remaining Non-Miracles by 2028” is a brief manifesto on magical thinking that crystallizes the mood of the release.

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