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Deerhoof - Deerhoof Plays Music of the Shining Music Album Reviews

Just in time for Halloween, the endlessly experimental and playful band take on two iconic pieces from The Shining and have a bit of frightful fun.

If you get invited to be the caretaker of a grand, creepy hotel in the Rockies or Cascades during the dead of winter, don’t say yes. So goes the simplest takeaway of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s masterclass in surrealist horror, The Shining. But Deerhoof didn’t pay that any heed: On a new two-song 7" issued just in time for Halloween, the inveterate, ever-exploratory indie rock standbys put two iconic pieces from the score through a madhouse of noise and drama. In a quarter-century, there’s very little the art-pop-punks haven’t tried, from unexpected covers to sharing band members on splits and recruiting guests for wild collaborations. Horror-movie covers for Halloween? That’s a perfectly Deerhoof move.

These two pieces are intensely visual artifacts, sculpted with clear care. First there’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, SX. 106,” an especially sinister update on the Béla Bartók original. (If you’re keeping track at home, yes, that’s Deerhoof tweaking the title of this classic.) In the film, the track is purely orchestral, its dour mood enshrouded in an austere string section and backed with drums that rumble in the distance, like a grim cloud hovering around a massive mountain’s summit. The music weaves in and out of what we see on screen, appearing in several, equally horrifying scenes, making the Overlook Hotel’s decadent, mid-century setting seem like a castle of spirits. Deerhoof’s version mimics the sound of tape being wound through an old projector, the signal cutting in and out as warped guitar and overloaded synths pull us toward doom. If there was a sense of light to the original, this horrorshow version is like a strobe flickering on bare skin in a pitch-black room. Its abrasive nature sneers like punk, making you shiver without the prettiness of the Bartók standard.

On the B-side, there’s “Midnight, the Stars and You,” written by the classic songwriting team of Woods, Campbell, and Connelly and performed in The Shining by the British bandleader Ray Noble and vocalist Al Bowlly. It enters the film in a dream sequence. Jack’s transported back to the 1920s, with gilded walls and rich guests in lavish garb. He will soon try to murder his family. Deerhoof take the kitschy bauble and let it ferment just so. John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez elegantly pick acoustic and electric guitars, enjoying a stately duet for the first minute. But then they plateau, making room for Satomi Matsuzaki. She would sound saccharine were it not for distortion that bubbles up, causing her voice to echo until it sounds like wind blowing through an old house. Then there are the strings, completely widescreen and turning a reverie into a nightmare. The pastiche is terrifying.

These covers could’ve been horribly self-serious, unnecessarily diligent renditions of songs that have already done the job of shocking for four decades. But they are instead really fun, just the right level of unsettling for a murder-mystery party or a Halloween-themed dinner. Just don’t let your guests know what’s happening in Room 237.

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