The title of Deftones’ new album, Koi No Yokan, is a Japanese phrase that means the feeling you get that, upon meeting someone, you might eventually fall in love with that person. It’s completely distinct from “love at first sight.” There is no direct comparison in English. Appropriately, there is also no direct comparison in music for Deftones.
When they released their first album,Adrenaline, they could have been labeled rap-rock, but comparing them to something like a Limp Bizkit would be like comparing an apple pie to a cow pie. They shed most of that influence by their next album,Around the Fur, and had completely left it behind by their third, the masterpieceWhite Pony.
My first encounter with Deftones was at a concert for some local band that I’ve long forgotten. They weren’t there, but their first album, Adrenaline, was playing over the club’s PA prior to the show. There I am, waiting for this gig to start, but really digging the music playing in the background. I started asking around if anyone knew who this mystery band was. No one did. Happily, I ran into the drummer from the aforementioned long-forgotten band a couple of weeks later. He was able to provide me with my answer. “Oh, that was the Deftones,” he said, flippantly, as if I should already have known. I immediately rushed to my local record store (which is, sadly, now out of business and replaced with a Sno-Cone place) to purchase the album. Thus began my fandom.
From the start, Deftones have been crafting experimental rock soundscapes that are born as a result of the harmony and discord between the disparate members. Their last album,Diamond Eyes – the first after the near-death of their bassist, Chi Cheng, and recorded with fill-in, Sergio Vega – displayed a band renewed. They were on the same page, united. And they sounded fantastic. Their music had matured and settled, as if the contributors had stopped competing for attention and decided to actually collaborate, rather than “square peg” their sound into a round hole. This largely eliminated the low points that could sparingly be found on previous albums.
Koi No Yokan largely continues the along the path that Diamond Eyes paved. This album is perhaps the most radio-friendly that the Deftones have created. It moves along briskly, too. If you’re not paying attention, you may miss the points where the songs transition, as the album opens with songs that crash right into each other. The sound is warm and mature. The aggression of the earlier albums is there, but turned down. It is simmering, rather than bludgeoning – used for punctuation, rather than brutality. For long-time fans, this may sound like a negative. Trust me when I say that it is not. This is a natural progression – a continuing arc that their sound has been on since the beginning.
Chino Moreno’s vocals are more intelligible than they’ve ever been.Morenois a vocalist that relies more on emotion than clever wordplay. He would clearly rather you felt what he is feeling, rather than thinking what he is thinking. Here, however, it seems that he’s gained the confidence to let the listener into his head a little bit. It’s not entirely unwelcome. His voice is also in fine form, displaying the range that has gained him a reputation as one of rock’s premiere vocalists.
Boosting up the vocals, the band definitely brings their A-game. The guitars are rich and meaty, providing attack on the faster numbers and adding a delicate, swirly sensibility on the dreamier tracks. Vega brings a more varied approach to the low-end, replacing Cheng’s thumpa-thumpa-thumpa basslines with a more forward and playful approach. It fits the music nicely, but displays more of Vega’s personality than on Diamond Eyes. He’s probably going to be with them for a while (he and Cheng are both listed as bassists), so his influence on the music is understandable as a contributor, rather than a gun-for-hire. Abe Cunningham’s drumming is as vigorous as ever. The beats are tasteful, but flowing with lots of rolls and fills, keeping things interesting. Frank Delgado rounds out the music with samples, keys, and atmospherics. I admit that I cringed a bit when Deftones listed a “turntablist” in their credits a few albums back. Now, I can’t imagine their music without him. He truly is the secret weapon of the band.
Any new release from Deftones is eagerly anticipated by the rock/metal community. To date, they haven’t let us down. Koi No Yokan seems to show that these men are growing up, displaying a continued musical maturity and a unity of purpose between them. With this, their seventh album, Deftones continue to show why they really have no musical peers. For new listeners, you may experience koi no yokan yourself – the sense that this is a band that you could, one day, fall in love with. The rest of us are already there.