Episode 3: Apple O' (Deerhoof, 2003)
Viewed casually, the musical and lyrical content of Deerhoof’s 2003 record, Apple O’, appears as so many discrete scraps of ideas laid abreast—a couple turns of a musical cell, then on to the next; cloned trees and humans here, exploding bombs and candlelight there. But take time to sit with it, and you might find the seemingly disparate snippets begin to work together and feed off each other—even mutating into one another—creating if not a proper narrative then at least an ideological thread. Sometimes it could be a stretch of what was intended of course, but who’s to tell you that the inkblot you’re looking at isn’t what you say it is? When Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier was asked whether describing the band as “Ambient noise pop with an electric twist” was correct, he assured the interviewer that he could have described it any way he wanted and Saunier would have told him he was right. “Because,” he says, “who am I to tell you that’s not what you heard!”
Musically speaking, a good chunk of this record—the fifth studio release by the band who in 2015 released their fifteenth—uses the technique of shuffling around different modules, or “song bits.” The fifth track, an instrumental called “My Diamond Star Car,” is a great example. Phrases are short, almost gestural, and are repeated at least once before moving on to the next. I like to imagine the band as hitting steady eddies merrily down the stream, cycling around a few times within each before flowing onward. There’s no attempt at covering the seams, and why should there be? Saunier says, “You can hear the moments of discontinuity in the songs, which is part of what makes them good. I hope.” Regardless, there’s much more to Deerhoof’s music than its seams.
The clear eye in the center of Apple O’’s storm is lead vocalist and bassist Satomi Matzuzaki, whose unadorned, expression-light, and—let’s face it: kiddo-cute voice spreads a whisper-thin layer of sonic and aesthetic varnish atop the otherwise rough-hewn project. Exploding candlelight, to be sure. Her careful but slightly imprecise pronunciation of the English lyrics is actually a tenderly beautiful opportunity to explore lyrical resonances between near homonyms—a tool used to great effect within Apple O’.
Where to begin?
Let’s get into it by way of the album’s sixth song, “Apple Bomb.” This song feels the most directionally assured, compositionally. It’s snagged by no looped modules. Right off the bat, the tune title provides a clue for interpreting the album title’s O'—the added mark functioning as the fuse of a cartoonish representation of a bomb. Within “Apple Bomb,” you hear the lyrics, “With a bone / [God] will try to clone me / Make a mother,” alluding to the story of Adam and Eve, two of history’s most famous apple-eaters. Of course, their apple did cause an ideological explosion, illustrated brilliantly in the lyrics thusly: “Your mom / when the bomb exploded / Eaten fruit / birthday suit, decoded.”
From “Adam’s apple” to “Atom bomb,” meanings of forbidden fruits shift underfoot. The umbrella-like apple core on the record’s cover art begins to morph into an atom bomb mushroom cloud. Cut to song nine, the gorgeous “Dinner for Two,” which name-checks the great portobello, and places the boom-‘shroom in the glow of exploding candlelight.
If the Adam and Eve connection slipped by you, track 12 is the with the assist. Titled, “Adam+Eve Connection,” its ethereal introductory 30 seconds are followed by a sample of the sampled bass line used to introduce track three, “Sealed with a Kiss,” but that bass is abruptly interrupted by a gobsmacking wall of screaming guitars, undergirded temporarily by an organized groove, until what feels like a cloud of pure volume is drawn upward to vertiginous heights—seriously, this thing gets loud for a moment—before being just as abruptly vanishing, leave only a nylon-string guitar, quiet and patient.
Saunier makes a point of saying that Deerhoof’s lyrics should be easily understood, on one level at least. “Simple material,” he says, “but at the same time confusing.”
See, for example the track called “Flower,” which in few words paints an alternate picture of “flower power,” using as its central figure the Kudzu, that invasive and rapidly growing plant that can literally overshadow other plants to death. Matzuzaki sings “I come over, I take over.”
The purple flowers of the Kudzu led me to wonder whether another stretch-of-a-connection might be plausible for the record’s title. My initial guess about Apple O’ was that the apostrophe after the O was doing it’s job of standing in for missing letters or words, perhaps, “Apple of my eye.” The King James Bible used the idiom to translate the hebrew phrase which literally translates to “little man of the eye”—invoking the reflection of oneself visible in the pupils of others. And in this sense of keeping or hiding another person in a part of your body, the “apple of the eye” is to the “rib of Adam” as “making one from two” is to “making two from one.”
Enough. I know. I get it.
But triangulate Apple of the eye with Shakespeare and purple flowers and maybe there’s something there.
In scene Act 3, Scene 2 of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon squeezes the liquid from a purple flower into Demetrius’ eyes, saying:
“Flower of this purple dye / Hit with Cupid’s archery / Sink in apple of his eye / when his love he doth espy”
In 2012, when Saunier was asked for the meaning of their new album’s title, “Breakup Song,” he said, “Well… Does it have to be only one? Maybe Deerhoof are very clever and they mean many things.” When the interviewer comes back with “And maybe you mean nothing,” Saunier states with a smile, “We don’t mean nothing. Maybe we mean four things. Ever thing that Deerhoof does, it means four things.”
I guess significance is in the apple of the eye of the beholder.
I’m Josh Rutner, and that’s your album of the week.