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Deerhoof:: Friend Opportunity (Album Review)

After the brilliant sprawl of The Runners Four, it would’ve made sense if Deerhoof continued in the same direction on their next album. It turns out that Friend Opportunity is a model of efficiency, packing just as much dazzling creativity into ten tracks as The Runners Four did into 20. This new approach could be seen as a reaction to the departure of Chris Cohen, who left to concentrate on his own band, the Curtains, but Deerhoof is such a mercurial group that some kind of change was inevitable. And, as good as The Runners Four was, Friend Opportunity just might be even better. It’s as though the band took the ideas they tossed around last time — more streamlined, structured songs combined with a wider sonic palette — and threw in more highly concentrated sweetness and weirdness for good measure. Though most of these songs are short, they’ve got a lot of presence, and Friend Opportunity opens with three of Deerhoof’s most adorable, accessible songs yet. “The Perfect Me” kicks off the album with galloping percussion and organs that sound like rays of sun bursting through clouds, two of Friend Opportunity’s main musical motifs. “+81” is the single, which makes sense, since its collision of acrobatic guitars, subtle electronics, marching band snippets, and irresistible “choo-choo-choo-choo beep beep” chorus distills the album’s kitchen-sink pop perfectly. “Believe ESP” is a surprisingly funky departure, with a slinky melody that lilts, slithers, and takes detours into chamber pop and noisy breakdowns, yet still sounds purposeful. Later on, this ultra-pop side of Deerhoof resurfaces with “Matchbook Seeks Maniac,” which easily ranks as one of the band’s best songs yet. It’s also one of their most straightforward songs, with a soaring melody that leads into a bittersweet yet rousing chorus, but lyrics like “I would sell my soul to the devil/If I could be on top of the world” keep things nicely unpredictable. The other facets of Deerhoof’s sound sparkle on Friend Opportunity, too: they explore their softer side with “Whither the Invisible Birds?,” a symphonic ballad sweet and yearning enough for a cartoon heroine, and “Choco Fight,” which is surprisingly pretty and mellow, given its title. Things get more experimental as Friend Opportunity ends: “Kidz Are So Small” is a startling track, even by Deerhoof’s standards, with Satomi Matsuzaki singing from the perspective of a dog and a man over tumbling beats and rubbery synths (based on this song and Milk Man’s “Dog on the Sidewalk,” man’s best friend inspires some of the band’s most out-there songs). “Look Away,” an 11-minute suite-like piece, balances the rest of Friend Opportunity’s poppiness with loping guitar riffs, rambling pianos, and keyboards that sound like feedback. Deerhoof is in an undeniable groove — with each album, they make their flights of fancy seem easier, and push pop’s boundaries farther. Friend Opportunity is the perfect name for their approach: they look for, and find, the best possibilities in whatever comes their way.