For Deerhoof, the tumultuous late 2010s and early 2020s were a call to arms and a time of rejuvenation. The venerable band made some of the most vital music of their career with Future Teenage Cave Artists and the brilliant mini-album Love-Lore, which condensed and contextualized some of the 20th century's musical highlights into a short yet sprawling medley that paid homage to revolutionary artists ranging from Ornette Coleman to the B-52s. With Actually, You Can, they continue that momentum. Arriving quickly after those releases, Deerhoof's 18th album brings a brashly hopeful perspective to the issues they explored on the dense and challenging Future Teenage Cave Artists and builds on Love-Lore's concise yet jam-packed approach to genre-mashing (and also echoes Friend Opportunity, Offend Maggie, and the galvanizing cheer of Mountain Moves). Influences as far-flung as Baroque classical music, Tejano, and Japanese harvest festival music bounce off of each other merrily. Fanfare-like riffs embellish interpolations of a Handel aria and a Maya Angelou essay on "Be Unbarred, O Ye Gates of Hell"; "Scarcity Is Manufactured" fights notions of austerity with a parade-like abundance of joy and sound; and "Divine Comedy" closes the record with what could be a medley in its own right. While making the album, the band were also inspired by the live shows they couldn't play due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, and it's as if they're playing twice as hard on Actually, You Can to make up for lost time. Given how fierce "Plant Thief" and "Epic Love Poem" sound, it's hard to believe Deerhoof didn't record them together in a studio or on a stage, but actually, they didn't. Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich's jaw-dropping guitar work leads the way on songs such as "Department of Corrections," but there's also plenty of expressive work from drummer Greg Saunier and vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki on "Ancient Mysteries, Described," which offers more proof that even Deerhoof's poppiest songs will (fortunately) never follow a straight path, and on "Our Philosophy Is Fiction," where the band's performances go in opposite but complementary directions. A manifesto that only Deerhoof could create, Actually, You Can is a perfect example of how they achieve what seems like the impossible time and time again -- and with its heroic doses of fun and optimism, it reminds listeners that actually, they can too.
Actually, You Can Review
by Heather Phares