Deerhoof has been around long enough for listeners to be wary of a certain degree of unpredictability, especially considering the fact that almost every song in their extensive catalog features some kind of crazy musical twist. This time around, it’s a personnel shift: since 2005’s The Runners Four, guitarist Chris Cohen has left the band to focus on his other project, the Curtains. Certainly it’s baffling for listeners to think about why anyone would walk out on a band as incredible as Deerhoof, but it was evidently even more confusing for the tightly knit, four-member group to suddenly find themselves a trio.
On Friend Opportunity, the remaining three cover up Cohen’s absence with as much production spackling as they can. From the outset of ‘The Perfect Me,’ keyboards and multitracked instruments pop up in places the band has rarely ever explored. The Runners Four was a masterpiece of minimalism; hardly any of the 20 tracks on it was arranged in a manner that couldn’t be reproduced live. Everything about it, right down to the title, revolved around glorifying the four members of the band as some sort of invincible, cartoon superhero team. Friend Opportunity, on the other hand, has the more filled-out, flowery sound of the one-off Green Cosmos EP from earlier ’05 — the sound of a few band members artificially doing the work of a dozen.
Certainly it’s a new direction for the band, and the feat is no less admirable upon hearing that they mixed the entire record in the back of their van while opening dates for Radiohead. But Friend Opportunity unfortunately leans too often towards the cutesier side of Satomi Matsuzaki’s lyrics: check goofy songs like ‘Choco Fight’ or ‘Kidz Are So Small,’ or the somewhat depressing fact that the best chorus on the album reads, ‘choo choo choo choo beep beep.’ There are still beautifully weird rockers like ‘Cast Off Crown’ and the glorious ‘Matchbook Seeks Maniac,’ but overall it feels like the band is scrambling to reconcile their roots as a lo-fi noise band with their slimmer new lineup.