Are you ready to go straight to video?

The question is posed by Deerhoof, noise-experiment survivors from San Francisco on their 18th studio album, Actually You Can.

The question is rendered anachronistic and utterly relevant by the Netflix age. On the one hand, straight to video is no longer the shorthand for poor-quality, low-budget, b-movie nonsense. Thanks to streaming, award winners and nominees go ‘straight to video’ as a way of reaching a far wider audience than is available at the local arthouse. On the other hand, the accessibility of publishing and self-publishing opportunities, the tonnage of new art constantly uploading to the internet, the culture glut and the divorce of the relationship between artistic and economic worth, all mean that it can feel futile to dream of anything other than going ‘straight to video’.

In fact, there’s a freedom in choosing and embracing that as a path. Once you accept that you are ready to go straight to video, then you might as well get there in the way that makes sense to you, rather than the needs of a target demographic or elusive audience. And it’s that kind of permissive, embracing reality that permeates Actually You Can.

The theme is developed on key track, ‘Scarcity Is Manufactured’. It’s a wild fugue of variations on the instrumental break of La Bamba, with time changes, metal guitar, and exuberance packaged as standard. It’s the joyful noise Deerhoof’s record label is named for. But it also nails the lies behind the strategies we all obsess upon to avoid going straight to video; the endorsements, the reviews, the sales figures. All of that is manufactured. What is real is that a band like Deerhoof, now pushing 30 years in existence, are finding space for all the bands, all the styles, all the abundance. Actually You Can lives in a space that has the freedom not to be ‘album of the year’ because that kind of scarcity is manufactured.

Instead, Deerhoof have produced an album that plays to their strengths. Of course, there are other bands in the world that can flip and bend divergent styles of music into an abstract beauty, but Deerhoof have that skill in spades. You never quite know which card Deerhoof will play next. Actually You Can carries baroque influences, especially on album opener ‘Be unbarred, O Ye Gates of Hell’. However, there are plenty of excursions into jazz, cartoon moments, metal and art-rock, rooted in a supple funkiness that is at the core of their live shows.

I admire Deerhoof for this album. I admire the playing and the ethos and the honesty behind it. Past their first flush of youth, the band must have felt a temptation to cling, to battle. We all do. Many bands of their generation who continue collect the label of ‘survivors’. But Deerhoof are not out there surviving, they’re embracing the wild possibilities and connections wrapped in the abundance of our beauty soaked world.

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