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Deftones, ‘Koi No Yokan’ (Reprise)

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Label: Reprise

The respect denied so many ’90s rock perennials persists for Deftones for two reasons. First, despite being an alleged nü-metal band, they could be really sexy. (We’ll come back to that.) Second, they’ve typically decorated their slightly grungy and very slightly punky aesthetic with tasteful bells and whistles: a synth here, some programmed drums there, a song called “Digital Bath” with a lot of empty space in it. Koi No Yokan, their seventh album, doesn’t contain much of that kind of thing at all, nor does it contain the band’s best work. But it does make clear how little being fancy has to do with being sexy.

Deftones always have gotten praise for their (modest) curiosity, but they were always less like reigning magpies Radiohead and more like Smashing Pumpkins — a more minimal, more focused, and much heavier Smashing Pumpkins, as devoted to operatic emotional intensity, but less distracted by stupid bullshit. It’s their sensuality, not their experimentation, that’s carried them all the way from 1995 to 2012 intact. Deftones songs envelope you in an amplified wash, a swaddled state in which every emotion is stretched to the dramatic width of one of frontman Chino Moreno’s vowels, then swept majestically away.

Of course, this is bathetic; of course, it can be a little tacky. But these guys aren’t Muse or Coldplay — the grandeur-peddlers. Nor are they proggish technocrats like Explosions in the Sky. Their songs don’t take deep breaths before working themselves to climax — they don’t even usually build much. They circle and chew, like sharks. Riffs are either stacked in aggressive spirals or stretched atop entire verses like bodies on beds. Their best songs slip between both modes — between desperate, knotted violence and languid bliss — until the differences between them aren’t as clear as they used to be, and they both start feeling suspiciously like sex.

Thus, the obvious complaint — that Koi No Yokan isn’t as inventive or accessorized as older Deftones records — doesn’t matter that much. There are no gently stuttering synth tracks or overt nods to D.C. hardcore, but even a decade ago, this band was at their best when they could show how easily and suddenly extreme fury could shift into tenderness, and they were at their worst when they couldn’t. Gimmicks — even dynamics — are more than they need. Thus, a song like “Romantic Dreams,” which is about three things — a grainy, spidery guitar riff; Moreno’s habit of occasionally lurching, genuinely moved, into an uncontrolled scream; and the weirdly sexy vocal filter that makes him sound like he’s seducing an intercom — has already showed you all it has to show, has already clawed at and caressed you, by the time it starts to get fancy. When the quiet, dramatic intro of “Tempest” inevitably explodes, it doesn’t teach you any more about emotional volatility than the circular, churning rest of the song. And the best track on the album, or at least the purest, is “Leathers,” whose verses are screaming staccato messes that downshift abruptly but smoothly into long, drawling chorus phrases, like the song’s trying to bind your wounds after inflicting them upon you itself.

Of course, all this sensual juxtaposition stuff happens on other Deftones albums, most consistently on 2000’s critically beloved White Pony, which was worth carrying with you as you exited the wrecked house of our century’s first decade. There’s definitely something welcoming about Koi No Yokan‘s comparative purity, in the band’s understanding of how little they need.