More than 25 years in, it’s easy to take the existence of Deerhoof for granted. A darling of the experimental pop scene that never got the recognition they deserved, the band is beloved by those willing to listen to a pop group that thrives on music that isn’t necessarily chaotic, but is at least chaos-adjacent: moments of sugar-rush guitars interrupted by guitar squealing, all bolstered by the anime character vocals and lyrics of Satomi Matsuzaki. The music they make isn’t groundbreaking, but inexplicably, it’s hard to really put a firm finger on what other bands they sound like – they remain in a league of their own.

Their newest, Future Teenage Cave Artists, is their 15th album, which is a staggering catalog for most any band. Between 1996 and 2017, there were only five years that didn’t see the release of a new Deerhoof record, which makes the fact that Cave Artists is the only album since 2017 a potential cause for alarm. Three years on, it feels like a step backwards for Deerhoof, but don’t take that to be a comment on the quality of the album. 2017’s Mountain Moves was a strange album for the band, with more than half its songs featuring at least one guest – and that guestlist included Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, Chilean composer Violeta Parra, and, oh yeah, Awkwafina. It felt like they were opening the door for the rest of the musical world to come see how they worked and to actively participate in their process, which resulted in the band’s most expansive sounding record to date.

Make no mistake: this sounds exactly like a Deerhoof record, but much of the fluff has been pulled off. When the band first announced it, their press release described it as “borne of self-isolation and deprivation,” a piece of information that’s totally integral to one’s understanding of where Cave Artists comes from. It feels like the barren comedown from that party, with a shocking amount of space left in the margins of each song. It’s never a quiet album, but for a band so well-acquainted with the elements of chaos, they sure do give you time to catch your breath. “O Ye Saddle Babes” begins as a fierce bass line before being invaded by guitar squealing and riffs, which then combine into an electrifying groove when they stop fighting each other and join forces with founder Greg Saunier’s fantastic drum section. Then comes the thrilling “Fraction Anthem,” which is less than three-minutes long but contains multitudes, existing both as an unexpected praise song pulled straight from the Book of Corinthians and as a blissed-out R&B song fed through a broken tape deck. Most surprisingly, they end on the stark, beautiful piano number “I Call on Thee,” a move which feels both at total odds with the band’s whole career and perfectly in step with it as well.

Still, Cave Artists is full of moments of bright color and warm tones, too. The album’s opener/title track almost feels like it could be a less-polished cut from Offend Maggie, while the excellently-named “New Orphan Asylum for Spirited Deerchildren” somehow captures the infuriating, lurching sensation of a lawnmower that’s beginning to run out of gas, struggling to reach full force for more than a moment. Elsewhere, “Damaged Eyes Squinting into the Beautiful Overhot Sunset” spends its four minutes entrancing you with a two-note keyboard drone punctuated by infectiously skronky guitars, before Saunier’s drums and vocals join the mix, all of which combine into one of the band’s most satisfying songs of the last decade.

That it ends so abruptly to make way for the solemn “I Call on Thee” is a killer move, as it feels unresolved – it’s as if they’re trying to leave you totally ready for their next jaunt. While Cave Artists isn’t the best we’ve gotten from Deerhoof, it feels like a worthy record after such a long silence from the band, one that does a remarkable job of letting you in on the isolation the album was created from. These are dark and unspeakable times, and even though that reality exists within the seams of this album, it feels comforting to have a band so consistent expressing those feelings while still serving up great, weird noise-pop as a way to make the darkness feel less uncertain.

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