Review by Heather Phares
More expansive than Friend Opportunity, not quite as sprawling as The Runners Four, Offend Maggie is among Deerhoof's most balanced albums. However, that doesn't convey the sense of adventure that courses through every track. "The Tears and Music of Love" begins the album with emphatic guitars that turn mischievous and a shape-shifting melody that keeps changing right up to the song's end. Offend Maggie is one of Deerhoof's most riff-filled albums since Apple O', thanks to the addition of second guitarist Edward Rodriguez to the fold: power chords set off the flute-like purity of Satomi Matsuzaki's voice on "My Purple Past," and the acoustic strumming on "Don't Get Born" makes its brevity all the more striking. The band brings both of theses sounds together brilliantly on "Offend Maggie" itself, which moves from a briskly lilting acoustic figure that recalls a sped-up John Fahey or Ali Farka Toure to plugged-in chugging, while Matsuzaki sings about a telemarketing romance gone wrong over rollicking drums. That Deerhoof can pack so much appeal and inventiveness into two minutes shows, once again, that they don't so much "go pop" as remake pop in their own image.
Elsewhere, Offend Maggie gives equal time to the charming but not too cutesy Deerhoof with the hyper-expressive "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back," where Matsuzaki becomes the ball as she describes how the players dance and weave on the court, and "Snoopy Waves," which buries its bubblegummy melody under drums and distortion. The more challenging Deerhoof surfaces on "Eaguru Guru," which name-checks the German prog rock band Guru Guru and nods to prog with its massive keyboards and guitars, intricate rhythms, and suite-like movements. "Fresh Born"'s towering bassline and spiraling guitars make it Deerhoof's version of funk-rock, while "This Is God Speaking"'s distorted vocals and rinky-dink electronics sound like an homage to Experimental Dental School. The introspective Deerhoof get their due on "Family of Others," where a spooky intro gives way to John Dieterich's vocal harmonies, rippling guitars, and meditations on interconnectedness, and on "Jagged Fruit"'s jazzy, moody finality. While Offend Maggie isn't as dramatic a change from what came before it as Friend Opportunity and The Runners Four were, its subtler changes and elaborations make it far from predictable -- other than that, it's another consistently interesting Deerhoof album.
So Deerhoof, crazy band, right? Lots of weird tics, art-school tropes, music theory indulgences-- and yet the San Francisco quartet has steadily veered closer to accessibility the past of couple years. Not that any of their albums ever logically followed each other, but in three years they've managed to custom fit Satomi Matsuzaki's screwy vocals with honest-to-god melodies (Milk Man), consistently tug at heartstrings with those melodies (The Runners Four), and then wrap that package into slick, replicable three-minute pop structures (Friend Opportunity). What more can you ask for from a rock band?
Well, how about bigger guitars? With newly added guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ed Rodriguez on board, the band recaptures the dual guitar interplay of previous albums and then some. I'm not talking about namby-pamby prog fiddling, either; there's legit Pete Townshend-style windmilling here, from the "Rockin' Me" bite on opener "The Tears and Music of Love" to the Chuck Berry seventh chords that propel the "Fresh Born" verses. Inevitably, Satomi gets intertwined in all this, yet never lost. There's still a melodic quality to Maggie, and it can still sound pretty and coherent at times, but the album's heartbeat is six-stringed and often distorted. Don't worry though, Deerhoof haven't pulled the plug on their pop tangent. They're just folding their canon on itself, taking the songwriting tricks they've learned during the last handful of albums and applying them to a raw rock aesthetic somewhere between Reveille and Apple O'.
Deerhoof's never fully taken the plunge into electronics, but Maggie's trace amounts of techno-lalia are egregious. The album's all fretboard, no circuit board, and it feels most comfortable that way. Removed from the grid, the band's music follows a much more organic path, and it's interesting to note how seemingly scattershot bleeps and bloops on prior releases actually kept the songs relatively grounded. The album's second half best demonstrates this, its song structures vine-like, twisting and turning rather than firing off/on like a transistor. The dual guitar lines sneak up on each other in "Numina O" and closer "Jagged Fruit", and even if listeners have no clue what's coming next, they never get the feeling they're about to get sucker-punched.
Satomi follows suit, projecting a very biological and terrestrial sound. Past allusions to time travel, robots, and outer space are replaced with themes of the flesh as Maggie covers "The Tears and Music of Love", "Family of Others", "Fresh Born", and even basketball. Also, while Satomi's voice hasn't deepened any, she certainly sounds less like a hyperglycemic/hyperactive little girl and more sage. Her vocal phrases are at their longest and most reserved here, patiently straddling the lead guitar of "Chandelier Searchlight" or Middle Eastern tumble of "Buck and Judy" for several measures before delivering a payoff hook. And though she often sings lockstep with Rodriguez and Dieterich, it's not the same hand-holding as Reveille-era Deerhoof. Satomi may sing in unison with the guitars, but she also shows the ability to establish mood. Her opening line, "Tell me about your purple past," on "My Purple Past" is at once both curious pillow talk and hard-boiled interrogation, and the song's coy chorus only leaves you feeling less at ease.
Despite these adjustments, Maggie is hardly a new animal within the Deerhoof canon. It's got all sorts of earmarks, from the token Greg Saunier Beach Boys homage "Family of Others" to the irritating hopscotch cadence of "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back", this album's Shaggs-like "Kidz Are So Small" or "Dog on the Sidewalk". And even with all its perfectly nailed mid-tempo ballads, which filled the gooey center of the past two 'hoof releases, Maggie balks at the chance to make your knees go wobbly, keeping its allure strictly intellectual and technical rather than hot-blooded. That ethos isn't going to win a lot of hugs and kisses from fans or non-fans, but Maggie never asks for more than a firm, professional handshake, the kind of appreciation it more than deserves.
— Adam Moerder, October 10, 2008