To truly appreciate Deftones’ legendary status in 2020, consider that they would’ve had an incredible year even if they released no new music at all. May would have brought the 20th-anniversary celebration of White Pony, their game-changing masterpiece of progressive, shoegaze, and trip-hop-inflected metal that bore an obvious imprint on two of the first quarter’s most acclaimed rock albums, Higher Power’s 27 Miles Underwater and Loathe’s I Let It In And It Took Everything. We would have likely also seen the third iteration of Dia De Los Deftones, the daylong San Diego festival whose curators’ massive reach previously allowed sensible lineups to be created out of artists ranging from Rocket From the Crypt, Vein, Hum, Future, Chvrches, Doja Cat, JPEGMAFIA, and Megan Thee Stallion.
But instead of simply taking a victory lap, Deftones went on another title run. Their ninth studio album Ohms arrived in September to the most thunderously positive reviews of their entire career, and it has already topped Revolver’s Best Albums list of 2020. In two weeks, the long-rumored Black Stallion finally sees the light of day, a full-on White Pony remix album featuring DJ Shadow, Mike Shinoda, Squarepusher, Clams Casino, Purity Ring, and Robert freaking Smith himself. It’s enough goodwill to make up for a couple of bum notes — the pandemic-induced shutdown of their planned tour with French metal giants Gojira and post-internet provocateur Poppy, as well as guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s rather, um, tone-deaf views on COVID-19 (amongst other things).
25 years after their debut Adrenaline, it’s worth taking a step back and appreciating how all of the above came from a band that spent even their commercial heyday getting browbeaten by a label that expected them to be Limp Bizkit or Papa Roach. Of course, bands like Deftones and their ilk already had enough trouble being taken seriously in the critical sphere — guys with goatees and dreads playing pointy guitars and turntables, hailing from cities like Bakersfield, Sacramento, Des Moines, and Jacksonville that were punchlines for New York and Los Angeles. Some of them actually dressed up like clowns.
I don’t know whether to blame Spinal Tap, Motley Crue, or just lingering anti-German sentiment, but when Americans see an umlaut, that cues the laugh track. But just say “nü-metal” out loud — “new metal.” From the jump, Deftones and their peers envisioned creating a novel form of metal completely divorced from a tired, blues-rock lineage that encompassed basically every form of popular guitar music to that point. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground, Neil Young; these weren’t Deftones heroes, at least not publicly. From the jump, Deftones’ catholic tastes drew from quiet storm R&B, Bay Area funk-metal, The Cure and The Smiths, trip-hop, crate-digger rap, shoegaze, 4AD… at this very moment, most forward-thinking metal bands in the streaming era still sound like a lot like Deftones.
It’s been over 30 years since Chino Moreno, Carpenter, and drummer Abe Cunningham linked up at Sacramento’s C.K. McClatchy High School and created an embryonic version of Deftones; bassist Chi Cheng would join two years afterward, with keyboardist/turntablist Frank Delgado joining permanently during the making of White Pony. In the time since, Deftones’ consistency has made a deep dive somewhat forboding – the variance in quality between their consensus peaks (White Pony, Around The Fur, Ohms) and their less essential works (Deftones, Saturday Night Wrist) is shockingly narrow for a band that’s been as dependably productive over the span of 25 years. But for the unfamiliar, where to begin? There are usually two answers. One is to start with White Pony, although that recommendation has been compromised by Spotify’s unfortunate choice to feature the “reissue” version that begins with “Back To School,” an embarrassing rap-rock remake of the closing “Pink Maggit” that Maverick forced Deftones to make in order to juice what the label saw as underwhelming sales (Moreno claims he wrote it in a day just to spite them). But I’d personally recommend starting at the beginning and hearing them gradually accrue confidence to build on a foundation that was already solid from the start. For those who prefer a sampler, here’s one man’s choice of 30 Deftones songs — it’s hard to say whether they’re the best, but taken together, they’re a comprehensive overview of one the 21st century’s most rewarding bands.
30. “Pink Cellphone” (2006)
Deftones were supposedly fined a million dollars by their label for missing the deadlines on their 2003 self-titled. Its follow-up was an even bigger ordeal, as Chino Moreno struggled with addiction, divorce, and questioning his commitment to Deftones while completing the Team Sleep debut. Meanwhile, as Maverick continued to pressure the band after Deftones sold less than half of White Pony, the band cycled through song doctors, at least four studios, and a small battalion of producers, including Failure’s Ken Andrews, Ric Ocasek, Dan The Automator, and Bob Ezrin. The end result, Saturday Night Wrist, isn’t a particularly good Deftones album. Many think it’s their worst, though Moreno prefers calling it their “most fragmented” – and there’s evidence of a band exhausted enough to let their weirdest ideas take shape. For example, “Pink Cellphone,” a bizarre mix of old school hip-hop clatter, proto-EDM sub-bass, and deadpan guest vocals from Annie Hardy of Giant Drag… who spends the last 90 seconds relaying a monumentally disgusting theory about British dental hygiene that was cut from certain CD versions only to return on Spotify. Honestly, this probably isn’t actually one of Deftones’ best 30 songs, but definitely the one that most needs to be heard to be believed.
29. “Gore” (2016)
Gen X rock critics who grew up reading Rolling Stone have likely made a nerdy joke about how every U2 or R.E.M. album over the past 25 years will be hyped up as “their best since Achtung Baby/Automatic For The People!” and then casually dismissed by the next “return to form.” I suppose Deftones have reached that rarefied level, since the near-universal acclaim for Ohms has strangely come at the expense of its predecessor Gore, which wrestled the “best since White Pony!” title away from its own predecessor, Koi No Yokan. This is likely due to Moreno’s claims that Carpenter wasn’t fully engaged during the writing process of Gore and since he was there and I wasn’t, I gotta take his word for it. But nobody would’ve guessed that from hearing the title track (and really, anything from Side B), which pits Cunningham’s most daring drum rhythms with a chorus that pummels harder than anything they’ve done since Around The Fur, leaving the last minute for “Gore” to stagger in a pool of its own blood.
28. “Engine No. 9” (1995)
I once read that Madonna introduced Candlebox as “my grunge band” upon signing them to Maverick, and like most apocryphal stories I picked up from a mid-90s music magazine, the internet will not confirm whether it’s real. But I think about this every time Deftones talk about their time on the label, which mostly seems to involve getting berated at A&R meetings — “I remember [Maverick] sitting me down and pointing [out that] Papa Roach and Linkin Park had sold six million albums while [White Pony] hadn’t sold a tenth of that,” Moreno recalled in a 2010 interview. It’s likely that Madonna viewed Deftones as “my nu-metal band,” and expected them to put up Candlebox numbers, and in fairness, the fuck-the-pit-up Adrenaline highlight “Engine No. 9” gleefully smashes enough adolescent angst buzzers — Parents! Peers! Lyrical rap! — to make Maverick believe they were getting constantly robbed of a “Break Stuff.”
27. “Headup” (1997)
Korn’s self-titled debut transformed the state of alternative rock in the 1990s more than any album next to Nevermind and that still might be underselling it. Sepultura were one of the few veterans who welcomed metal’s latest “evolve or die” moment and thrived, tapping producer Ross Robinson, Korn’s Jonathan Davis and David Silveria, DJ Lethal, and Mike Patton (not to mention the Brazilian Xavante tribe) for their monumental 1996 album Roots. Max Cavalera and Deftones linked up a year later on “Headup” and its maniacal groove and call-and-response vocals make it a veritable Roots bonus cut, likely because Dana “D-Low” Wells would’ve wanted it that way. Wells was Cavalera’s stepson and a close friend of Moreno before he was tragically killed in a car accident in 1996 and the bridge pulls from some lyrics his family had found on a flier in his room. It’s an unusually cathartic and celebratory encomium for a fallen friend, and unfortunately, it would not be the last song of its kind that Moreno would have to write.
26. “Minus Blindfold” (1995)
At this point, there are exponentially more people who preemptively deny that Deftones are a rap-metal band than there are people who still believe that they are one. Real heads though, we can admit that Deftones totally were a rap-metal band — witness Chino getting on his “scientific lyrical miracle” shit with “Engine No. 9,” or their cover of Ice Cube’s “Wicked” with Korn or, sigh, “Back To School.” But it’s this Adrenaline underdog that proves Deftones were really onto something even in their earlier, more guileless days, doing the lord’s work of seeing the Judgment Night soundtrack as a conversation starter, aligning Lollapalooza and Smokin’ Grooves until Ozzfest could finish the deal.
25. “Elite” (2000)
Deftones’ first and only Grammy nomination came in 2001, and despite the Academy’s notoriously conservative tastes, the one throwback thrasher on White Pony got the nod for Best Metal Performance. That “Elite” actually won will never be the biggest shock of the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards — recall this was the year where an unbeloved Steely Dan album bested Kid A and The Marshall Mathers LP. But as much as “Elite” rips (dig the vocoder on the bridge!), I don’t think even Deftones believe it should’ve won over “Wait And Bleed.”
24. “Urantia” (2020)
Chino’s the artsy weirdo trying to make Deftones into a synth-pop act and Stephan Carpenter is the “metal guy” — this is the narrative that plays out publicly on every Deftones album despite Chino’s constant attempts to correct it. And it’s just so easy to apply to a song like “Urantia,” which kicks off with a piston-picked thrash metal riff before veering off into a vast, pastel-hued chorus. But lest we forget, Moreno recently pointed out that Around The Fur was his favorite Deftones album and Carpenter claimed he was listening to Depeche Mode’s Ultra on repeat throughout its creation — “Urantia” might not remind too many listeners of Around The Fur, but try to telling that to the guys who made it.
23. “Tempest” (2012)
Deftones have undeniably altered the sound of modern alternative rock and have maybe one just-OK album to their name in 25 years. Yet they will forever be denied the same level of tastemaker appeal of their heroes because their latter-day albums are still capable of soundtracking auto-erotic action scenes in Fast And Furious. For me, that’s a feature, not a bug — Deftones have long proven that they can make eerie, electronic art-rock, but would Vin Diesel ever load up his guns to a Radiohead song?
22. “The Spell Of Mathematics” (2020)
In the lead-up to Ohms, Deftones talked about the importance of returning to “The Spot,” a Sacramento studio/crash pad that they hadn’t occupied since Chi Cheng’s accident in 2008. Even if they refer to their early, formative hangout sessions together as “jams,” they never made anything that would remotely qualify as “jamband-esque” until “The Spell Of Mathematics,” the loose and luxurious centerpiece of Ohms that tails off into a literal human percussion circle — a dozen of their friends, including local Death Grips/Hella madman Zach Hill, all letting the groove ride as they snap their fingers together. Not the sort of thing they could’ve done last time they were making music at The Spot, but Deftones have been around long enough to earn their “if it feels good, do it” moment.
21. “7 Words” (1995)
“Y’all don’t know what it’s like / Being young, middle class and white” — these were the words of Ben Folds, a wealthy white man from Chapel Hill known for “ironic” piano-pop covers of “Gin & Juice” and a song with an “ironic” chorus of “give me my money back, you bitch.” Folds’ nü-metal baiting “Rockin’ The Suburbs” might be the worst alt-rock single of the 2000s, but it at least laid bare the classism frequently baked into superficial criticisms of the genre, whose artists and fans were quite often not male, not white, and from the most downtrodden parts of America. I’d expect Folds had a song like “7 Words” in mind, given its chorus is “SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK SUCK IT YOU B*TCH.” Yes, Moreno wrote this song when he was 16 and it’s about the exact thing you’d expect a teenage skate-punk of color to write about: how much they hate cops. The title refers not to George Carlin, but “you have the right to remain silent,” which they’ve righteously waived for 25 straight years — “7 Words” continues to show up in Deftones setlists and I doubt 2020 has changed their minds.
20. “No Ordinary Love” (2000)
Whether or not Deftones’ cover of “No Ordinary Love” is actually good is sorta besides the point. Here’s a metal band with every incentive (and often, direct orders) to relive their rap-metal past doing a straightforward rendition of a Sade song – at least a decade before loudly proclaiming one’s affinity for Sade became standard operating procedure for cool bands. In fact, with tracklists featuring Duran Duran, The Cure, The Cars, The Smiths, Japan, Cocteau Twins, and Sade, one could argue that Deftones’ cover compilations were Pitchfork 1980s lists in chrysalis. But they also contain Helmet and Drive Like Jehu covers, so naturally, their take on “No Ordinary Love” disturbs the aquatic, soothing production of the original with depth charges of detuned guitars, turning the devotion of the lyrics into something more unsettling. For the record, it’s a great cover.
19. “Mascara” (1997)
As to be expected with a popular band going strong into its third decade, Deftones concerts are frequently Date Night for couples who’ve aged alongside the band and maybe have matching White Pony ink. But it’s not “7 Words” or “Elite” that’s liable to kill the vibe; it’s the one that culminates with a mantra of “it’s too bad you’re married to me.” Latter-day Deftones albums are rife with Chino Moreno’s more lurid romantic dreams — his most brutally honest song about commitment actually shows up very early in their catalog. “I hate your tattoos / and your weak wrists / but I’ll keep you,” Moreno mutters over the desolate, desiccated lurch of “Mascara,” an Around The Fur fan favorite that airs out the resentments and self-loathing that can fester underneath a love you want to last forever.
18. “Korea” (2000)
In the parlance of Dia De Los Deftones headliner Future, “The Cocaine & Stripper Joint.” While White Pony is a celebrated realization of Deftones’ heretofore-subdued art-rock ambitions, this debaucherous and sorely underappreciated deep cut reminds us it was also borne of a lot of drugs, sex, and druggy sex. Bonus points for the bridge where Frank Delgado’s record scratches sound like someone trying to scrape the last bit of blow off a mirror in the champagne room.
17. “Rosemary” (2012)
I recently came across a Facebook group that coined the term “accidental shoegaze” — an imperfect but useful rubric to consider bands who evoke some of that genre’s classic tropes (heavily processed, swirling guitars, cooing, textural vocals) without being able to pass even the most lax purity test — i.e., Deftones’ preferences for clean production, maxed-out vocals, and cargo shorts. I can think of an album’s worth of material that can make the case for Deftones as the greatest accidental shoegaze band of all time and “Rosemary” would undoubtedly be its centerpiece. Quite possibly the slowest Deftones song ever made, just shy of the longest (that honor goes to “Pink Maggit,” “MX” isn’t really 37 minutes) and certainly the most swoon-worthy, if “Rosemary” is what happens when these guys accidentally make shoegaze, imagine if they committed to do it on purpose.
16. “Teenager” (2020)
For most of White Pony’s first half, Deftones have made an impressive leap from Around The Fur that’s both incremental and logical — the choruses are bigger and brighter, the song structures are more adventurous, but they’re still a band based in drop-C chunk and Moreno’s vaporous, searching melodies. And then “Teenager” happens, where Moreno coos in falsetto about a crippling high school crush over Delgado’s skittering drum patterns and almost nothing else — no bass guitar, no live drums, and the only guitar is an acoustic sample looped throughout. Deftones never tried something so overtly emo (at least in sentiment) ever again, nor did Moreno’s actual electro-pop side project Team Sleep. Then again, this is a song about a crippling high school crush — it’s not a feeling you can ever really capture twice.
15. “Hexagram” (2003)
For a self-titled album, Deftones found a band struggling to figure out who they truly were in 2003. The experiments were modest compared to those of White Pony, as were the hints of retreat back to their rawer, noisier past. There is nothing tentative about its opener “Hexagram,” which darts from a maxed-out, shrieking waltz into a bonkers chorus where all five members seem to be recreating the tollbooth scene of The Godfather in different time signatures — a promise of an abrasive, “freak out the squares” album that unfortunately never came to pass.
14. “Swerve City” (2012)
Each new Deftones album brings a slate of extremely badass and allusive song titles – “Xenon,” “Xerxes,” “Battle-Axe,” “Bloody Cape,” “Goon Squad,” and many other deep cuts that aren’t here on this list that bear no indication of what the song sounds like or is really even about. And then there’s the riff on Koi No Yokan’s opener — I don’t know how they could’ve called “Swerve City” anything else.
13. “Bored” (1995)
Rock music rarely evolves as the result of brilliant bursts of invention — it mostly occurs when bands break down arbitrary boundaries between their influences. Given what came after, it can be hard to remember “Bored” initially being viewed as state-of-the-art genre-blending in 1995, the product of an era when impressionable teenagers could absorb Helmet, The Cure, and Dr. Dre simply by watching MTV for fifteen minutes. Revisiting Adrenaline 25 years later, the guitar tones are hella dated, Moreno is still finding his footing as a vocalist and there are unfortunate lyrical lapses — but anyone who wants to understand the true essence of Deftones can just start at the beginning.
12. “Acid Hologram” (2016)
We’ve talked about drugs a lot so far — mostly weed and cocaine, perhaps some speed during the Saturday Night Wrist era, lots of alcohol throughout. For the most part, Deftones embody the usual side effects of these intoxicants — paranoia, irrational excitability, delusions of grandeur, fits of mania. But leave it to the one song with “acid” in its title to be only time they’ve ever gotten trippy. The retroactive critiques of Gore tend to focus on Carpenter’s absence and the presumptive, resulting lack of tr00 metal, without recognizing how the prismatic, effects-heavy layering of “Acid Hologram” opened up possibilities Deftones honored by with the psychedelic overtones (“The Spell Of Mathematics,” “Genesis”) littered throughout the more-beloved Ohms.
11. “Genesis” (2020)
In the grand scheme of things, Deftones’ Nick Raskulinecz Trilogy has to be considered a massive success. From Diamond Eyes through Gore, they were a band that gracefully endured tragedy and terrible writer’s block with renewed vigor and clarity, ready to reestablish themselves as vital contributors to popular metal rather than elder statesmen that could coast on their immeasurable influence. That said, there was always something missing in the production — too clean, too maxed out — that with Ohms bringing Terry Date back to produce, they finally said the quiet part out loud. Unlike every other Deftones opening track, “Genesis” does not immediately go the f*ck in, letting a synthesizer drone for 52 seconds. There’s a lot going on in this track but the one sound that sticks out to me is what happens before Carpenter busts out a nine-string riff that could literally flatten the entire earth. It’s the simple click of Abe Cunningham’s drumsticks that honors their promise of getting back to the old way of doing things — five guys in a room, all fully engaged.
10. “Sextape” (2010)
Chino Moreno, on the meaning of Around The Fur, “I picture fur as being very glamorous and very beautiful. But around the inside it’s skin. And it’s ugly. So it’s somewhat of a metaphor for the music.” Ever get so drunk you fall asleep on your arm and suffer nerve damage? That’s his explanation of Saturday Night Wrist. Dude has a way of accidentally writing phrases that sound extremely sexual, so kudos to him for outright giving a very sexually suggestive song the title “Sextape.” But while the term “sextape” itself brings to mind something corrupted, cheap, and exploitative (granted, having a video of two women making out underwater raises the same question of the Around The Fur and Saturday Night Wrist covers, i.e., did Deftones think the clip was subversive, evocative, or just hot), “Sextape” itself is the most unashamedly sensual and enveloping Deftones song, holding back on any of their usual metallic defense mechanics disturbing the oceanic groove.
9. “Knife Prty” (2000)
The “New Rock Revolution” of the early 2000s was not-so-subtly framed as an actual revolt, ostensibly bringing sex, drugs, and the real New York City back to rock ‘n roll after years of suburban nu-metal, surly post-grunge, and emasculated pop-punk dominating the charts. I can only assume no one in Meet Me In The Bathroom had listened to White Pony centerpiece “Knife Prty” — if Maverick had their way, “Back To School” would result in millions of sheltered kids hearing the best Jane’s Addiction song Perry Farrell never wrote, an ode to sexual bloodsport blatant enough to make Lou Reed blush.
8. “Diamond Eyes” (2010)
After an unprecedented four-year break between albums, Diamond Eyes confronts the absence of Chi Cheng in a most brutal way — by recreating the 2008 car crash that put him in a coma for the next five years. Yet, brutality and beauty rarely exist on their own in Deftones songs and “Diamond Eyes” features some of the most evocative imagery of the band’s career: a broken windshield recalls “diamonds rain[ing] across the sky,” souls realigning in due time, a Meshuggah-inspired eight-string guitar recreating a jaws of life. Perhaps the band assumed that Cheng would’ve wanted his tribute to slam as hard as anything he made with the band, but when I saw them play “Diamond Eyes” at a celebration of their 30th year of existence, Chino was too choked up to make it through the chorus.
7. “Feiticiera” (2000)
Only one thing’s for certain when Deftones open up their masterwork White Pony — “F*CK I’M DRUNK!” For the next three minutes, “Feiticiera” is all sudden plot twists and key changes, with Moreno’s perspective changing with seemingly every line. Is he a hostage? Is this a kidnapping or role playing? Is this “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” recast as a horror story? Why is this song named after a Brazilian fitness model? (A: “the name itself is some Brazilian name that I read in a magazine and just liked.” Possibly related: Joana Prado of “In Shape With Feiticiera” posed for Brazilian Playboy three times, including its best-selling copy of all-time). Everything that would get fleshed out on White Pony gets introduced here: post-hardcore riffs turned into pop, a head-on collision between violent and sexual impulses. But most of all, the narrator on “Feiticiera” is in a state of surrender, ready to let their darkest fantasies take them wherever they lead.
6. “Minerva” (2003)
In hindsight, Deftones is commonly acknowledged as the band taking its first L – merely going gold after Around The Fur and White Pony went platinum, met with cautiously positive and indifferent reviews rather than raves or even confusion. But flashback to May 2003 and there’s Deftones debuting at No. 2 on Billboard, still their highest to date. And that’s because we only had “Minerva” and Deftones’ most unapologetically soaring and populist chorus — “AND GOD BLESS YOU ALL!” For four and a half glorious minutes, we could imagine a very real possibility that Deftones would spend the rest of the year, and maybe even their career, going toe-to-toe with Foo Fighters, or at least judging from the video where they soundcheck to an empty desert landscape, headlining Coachella. And then everyone pressed play on “Hexagram” and heard a band that would lose its first battle, only to win the Loudness Wars years later.
5. “Hole In The Earth” (2006)
From all accounts, Saturday Night Wrist was the end result of the most difficult and divisive recording process Deftones would ever endure. So perhaps everyone was too drained to talk Moreno out of getting all meta on the bridge and airing out the band’s dirty laundry: “I hate all of my friends / They all lack taste sometimes.” Indeed, the fluttering waltz beat and “Heaven Or Las Vegas” guitar lead suggests Chino’s attempt to make an actual Cocteau Twins song, and it keeps getting shut down by the piledriving drop-D riff on the chorus. In other words, a quintessential Deftones song, an artistic stalemate leading to explosive alchemy.
4. “My Own Summer (Shove It)” (1997)
“Best Side One Track” will be an eternally entertaining bar game for music geeks as long as the album format exists, but I like to get more specific — S1T1 on a sophomore album where a previously slight band lets you know within the first few seconds that they are not f*cking around — “Silent Shout,” “Planet Telex,” “An Introduction To The Album.” If only YouTube reaction videos existed for “My Own Summer (Shove It)” – in the years following Adrenaline, Deftones paid their dues opening for bands like Korn, White Zombie and… KISS, and I imagine they learned the importance of making an immediate impression. Do not underestimate how much work went into the snare hit that introduces Around The Fur — Abe Cunningham claims he used a different snare on every single song. The verses presage the dank, dub-metal of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and all of their weed-fueled paranoia gets frighteningly actualized on the chorus; 90% of the video looks terribly dated, but at least having them play on an ice floe surrounded by live sharks works as a concept. Over the past 20 years, Deftones have expanded upon the art-metal template set by White Pony to great acclaim, but there’s a reason that a wide swath of Deftones fans and even Moreno himself holds Around The Fur in even higher regard – “My Own Summer” is what happens when a young band starts to realize the extent of their own confidence and there’s no way they’ll ever make it again.
3. “Change (In The House Of Flies)” (2000)
And now, a word about Deftones’ music videos: meh. Mostly consisting of serviceable performance clips and half-realized abstract art pieces, Deftones’ filmography has never felt commensurate with their mighty catalog. There’s one major exception and it’s not “Back To School,” even if you can argue that it’s their most successfully executed concept. “Change (In The House Of Flies)” wouldn’t have been served by a video of Deftones simply playing along in an interesting-looking studio space; it’s too slow, too tense. In Liz Friedlander’s gorgeous and spot-on treatment for a very sexy, very sinister song, Deftones are mingled amongst wasted models in a Hollywood Hills estate that looks part Eyes Wide Shut, part The Ice Storm, part Boogie Nights. They blend in with their surroundings, but don’t quite belong, as none of the band members seem to be acknowledged by anyone they’re playing for, with Friedlander occasionally cutting away to them jamming out alone in the living room. Leading up to White Pony, Deftones were living out their teen dreams on houseboats in Sausalito and recording in the same studio where Rumours was made, but they were also driving producer Terry Date mad by indulging in marathon sessions of Tony Hawk Pro Skater. No matter how much Deftones immersed themselves in rockstar excess, they were still just a couple of guys from Sacramento and the “Change” video held true to the song’s themes of unnerving voyeurism — of feeling a witness to physical and moral decline even as a participant.
2. “Digital Bath” (2000)
All I knew about cocaine in 2000 were things I picked up from albums like Be Here Now or Tusk or Billy Joel’s “Pressure” – i.e., it was only accessible to rich assholes and it made them even bigger assholes. I didn’t even know how someone would acquire it — it was hard enough to come across shwag weed and wine coolers while growing up in suburban Pennsylvania. If the cover art and title of White Pony weren’t overt enough about Deftones’ vices, there’s “Digital Bath” – the blinding sheen of the production, the numbing tingle of Delgado’s drum programming, the part where Carpenter’s guitar ruptures and the rush kicks in… look, I’m not saying that cocaine even really needed much of a sales pitch. In a literal sense, the subject matter of White Pony is insect metamorphosis, kidnapping, bloodletting, and, in the case of “Digital Bath,” a woman being lured into a bathtub and electrocuted. But really, as far as what White Pony and Deftones were about, it’s the chorus — “I feel like more.”
1. “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)” (1997)
Where are Deftones in 2020 without “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)”? If, say, “Mascara” or the title track served as Around The Fur’s second single instead, perhaps Deftones soldier on as a respected cult act that never escaped the shadow of Korn. Maybe they try to make White Pony anyway and Maverick is even less supportive, unaware that an audience exists for Deftones’ more melodic and sensitive side. There’s nothing else on their first two albums that does more than simply imply their professed love for The Smiths or The Cure, and even “Be Quiet And Drive” itself doesn’t sound much like either of them (not even that one Ross Robinson-produced Cure album where they tried to sound like Deftones). But it showed that Moreno truly understood why songs like “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” or “Just Like Heaven” hit different — when bands are otherwise dedicated to all-consuming miserablism, the stakes are inconceivably high for the outlier love songs, where one car ride or one night together can counterbalance the otherwise hopeless state of existence. If not, what’s the point of it all? And so this is the song that had to top this list — it’s the reason we can make one in the first place.
Deftones is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.