Friend Opportunity

(5RC/Kill Rock Stars)

No band can pack overwhelming shock and awe and pocket-sized cuteness into a single song the way Deerhoof do. The cuteness comes from oblique heroine Satomi Matsuzaki—we could spend an entire review decoding the Orientalist tendencies of indie-rock audiences as they intersect with Matsuzaki's genuine/contrived broken-English craziness (or if you're Vice you just accuse her of "pimping her Japness"), but let's not. It's demanding and rewarding enough just to process Deerhoof's musical mania for what it is.

Friend Opportunity is largely more of the same from Deerhoof: trumpet fanfares, unpredictable rhythms, schizophrenic blasts of guitar, and of course Matsuzaki's cryptic, childlike singing. The album begins with the stereo organ shine and subliminal, hand-forged Timbaland percussion of "The Perfect Me"—Matsuzaki is on her usual, inscrutable lyrical trip, triumphant guitars riffing all around her. Later, "The Galaxist" arcs effortlessly upward, giant chords breaking apart into layered melodies, reverberating to a tingling crescendo as Matsuzaki sings, "Melody, show me the humanity" (or "huge manatee," it's hard to tell).

"Whither the Invisible Birds?" is unexpectedly cinematic, all orchestral sweeps and Disney-cartoon longing ("someone/somewhere far away"), and "Cast off Crown," notable for its rare vocal contribution from drummer Greg Saunier, is a faded gray ode to summertime and flight. "Kidz Are So Small" contains Matsuzaki's shape-shifting scenarios ("If I were man and you were dog/I'd throw a stick for you") and scatting within cheap beats, beeps, and yelping sound effects. Nearly a third of Friend Opportunity is given to the album's final track, "Look Away," a meandering psych epic that ripples out like a long echo of what's come before.

The band's charm, beyond their singer's well-worn Otherness, is their ability to combine familiar elements in confounding ways, to make more noise than three (or four) people ought to be capable of, and to build massive records out of seemingly diminutive songs. That Deerhoof's first album as a trio isn't any kind of revelation is barely a disappointment—the band may be up to their usual aural illusionism, but their sleight of hand is as deft as ever. ERIC GRANDY

Deerhoof play Neumo's Thurs Feb 1, 8 pm, $12 adv, all ages.



(Kranky Records)

If recent releases are any indication, Kranky Records, whose artists tend to sound like stars being plucked from the sky, have designs to rein in more closely orbiting space travelers. The new album from Deerhunter, a baby-faced five-piece from Atlanta, finds a balance between sanguine postpunk energy and glittering shoegazer fireworks that often recalls more sensory, mid-'90s U2 minus the vocal narcissism. Any comparisons begin to lose their luster when you realize Deerhunter's true strength: a knack at shaping choice bits of sophisticated pop revelry while alternately dipping into liquid sojourns of ambient bliss.

Cryptograms, like the brain-boggling word puzzles it's named after, gains potency in the redefining of its own terms. Through repetition and effects, lyrics begin to break away from their original meanings and voices begin to swap identities with rushes of sonic electricity. These youngsters don't shy away from publicizing their personal tribulations, a sticky wicket of emotional breakdowns, illness, aborted recording sessions, and even the death of a band member. The misfortunes that colored the creative process of Cryptograms, however, have, in transit, been encoded into a much more exuberant musical language. Tracks like the tangible, slow-building "Spring Hall Convert" may hint at original meanings, but most of Deerhunter's stabs at a darker agenda still come off almost cuddly, a strange testament indeed to the restorative alchemy of youth. JOSH BLANCHARD


Casually Smashed to Pieces

(Suicide Squeeze)

Despite their association with Seattle's own Suicide Squeeze label, Kent, Ohio's the Six Parts Seven are as doggedly Midwestern-sounding a group as you're likely to find in contemporary rock: a pleasant, somewhat nostalgic throwback to the preinternet era where indie-rock bands spoke in their own regional dialects. Warm, contemplative, and built off delicate webs of contrapuntal guitar, 6P7's largely instrumental songs don't just feel like soundtracks to long, lonely treks through the central states; they unfold with the same measured, horizontal pacing as a midnight drive across I-80. Even at its most volume-heavy (the brief distorted section of the lovely "Awaiting Elemental Meltdown"), the band's fifth album, Casually Smashed to Pieces, doesn't ebb and flow so much as it drifts. While it's easy to see how critics have compared 6P7 to postrock groups such as Tortoise, Mogwai, and Tristeza, the quartet's music explores a completely different dynamic—one that's more "present-rock" than anything. Recorded by Matt Bayles, and accompanied by a septet of guests ranging from lap-steel player Brian Straw to clarinetist Jen Court, Smashed is also one of the shortest full-lengths (a record 31 minutes) in 6P7's catalog, and as such is also one of the most rewarding. Because while driving from Kent to Detroit is one thing, as anyone who's ever traveled from Kent to Chicago will tell you, an overlong trip across the Midwest can just put you to sleep. AARON BURGESS


There's No 666 in Outer Space


For most of their six years together, Sacramento's Hella have operated as a duo, with guitarist Spencer Seim and drummer Zach Hill bending the laws of instrumental rock to fit their respective pretzel-fingered, octopus-limbed playing styles. And while the results have been alternately inspired (2002's short, sharp, and shocking Hold Your Horse Is) and incomprehensible (2005's two-CD noise- and video-game-music expulsion Church Gone Wild/Chirpin Hard), they've never been what you might call "song based" until now.

With There's No 666 in Outer Space, Seim and Hill have expanded their lineup to a quintet, with guitarist Josh Hill (also Zach's cousin), bassist Carson McWhirter (also Seim's bandmate in the NES-themed cover band the Advantage), and singer (yes, singer) Aaron Ross joining the core duo. And while the added bass and guitar alternately deepen, intensify, and add weird new layers to Hella's core sound, Ross's presence completely shifts the band's paradigm for the better. Even with Hill's inimitable sputtering drum work dropping exclamation points in front of his every line, Ross uses his sinuous and endearingly nerdy singing style to soften the edges of standouts such as "World Series" and "The Ungratefull Dead." Which isn't to say Hella circa 2007 are easy listening—at its smoothest, 666 sounds like Primus covering King Crimson's THRAK in reverse—but they sure are a hell of a lot more listenable. AARON BURGESS


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I'm the Captain, Where We Going?



Seattle multi-instrumentalist/producer James van Leuven tours Europe and the states with his trusty laptop "the same way a singer-songwriter travels with their guitar," writing and recording as he goes. While Where We Going does possess a certain sense of global restlessness—thanks in large part to the French/English vocals of collaborators Elisabeth Perle and Krista Warden—what really marks it as traveling music is how well it alternately insulates and melts into the background, each essential for scoring days spent on trains and nights spent in hostels.

A few of the album's tracks are genuinely ambient, and many more of them are just unobtrusively soft micro pop. But the humorous and heartfelt collage against capitalism, "Double Crossin' Little Rat," is a fully engrossing contraption of armchair hiphop assembled from sampled back-porch guitar strumming, dusty beats, and vintage political rhetoric. The video for the song (not included on the CD, but easily found on the internet) is an adorable, sepia-toned send-up of the Soviet Kino-pravda in which assembly-line workers at a Moog factory are agitated into a breakdancing work stoppage.

Other engaging tracks include "Backside Grind, pt. II," in which lovely French singing is surrounded by ghostly samples and occasionally overwhelmed by echoing guitar fuzz, and the psychedelic drum 'n' bass odyssey of "Curtains." Throughout much of Where We Going however, van Leuven seems content just creating pleasant atmospheres. ERIC GRANDY