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Published: 2005/12/12
by Chris Gardner

The Runners Four – Deerhoof

Kill Rock Stars – KRS429/GER048

The newest Deerhoof record is by far their most accessible outing to date, which still may not be enough for 95% of the listening public. Deerhoof deals in postmodern pastiche. The elaborate stylistic mash lays pasted together on the tracks with few or no transitions. Saccharine lullabies are
interrupted by thundering assaults of prog-rock. Caustic clatters of noise are hijacked by dreamlike drifts. The stylistic collisions are perhaps less severe on The Runners Four than on previous efforts, but the basic Deerhoof model—which juxtaposes the childlike and the violent, pitting
the soft against the jagged, the bombastic, and the screechy—still underpins the proceedings. The collage approach is initially off-putting, and Deerhoof often sounds like unfocused nonsense to virgin ears.

And I'm afraid bassist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki doesn't soften the blow with her voice. Both she and drummer Greg Saunier practice an airy disembodiedness, singing entirely out of their head cavities. Atop this ethereality, Matsuzaki, whose voice is naturally high and childlike, exaggerates both her pitch and her inflections. I've given up entirely trying to parse out what she's saying (which might be in English, Spanish, or Japanese) and accepted her voice as a whispering, screeching, caterwauling, lulling instrument of its own.

But here's the thing—you've got to get past all that. You've got to dive in and get down to the center of Deerhoof, because once you're there, Deerhoof is a freakily irresistible animal. It's the mythological creature a kid cobbles together piece by piece—a reptilian foot here, stag antlers, a
trunk, talons and claws, feathers and scales, a lion's mane. It's the multi-beast. It's rockish, proggy, angular, giddy, abrasive, danceable, noisy, disjunctive, and brilliant. You'll hear plenty of echoes of rock heroes from yesteryear, but you can't escape the inevitably simple idea that
nothing in the world has ever sounded like this.

And it's not as tough to penetrate as it might initially seem. It may be hooky in a different way than you're accustomed to, but Deerhoof is hooky as a tacklebox, and once the barbs are in you the things that were once off-putting become charming. They won't milk a hook, dragging it out again and again so you can bob your head and grin like an idiot, and they'll often bury the hookiest bits in the midst of some clunky aural maze. But it's there. And while the songs are often so badly fractured that you won't know which song the addictive snippet you have cycling through your head hides in, you eventually won't mind digging back through the whole album to find it.

I'm doing a piss poor job of describing Deerhoof here, and that's probably for the best. It should be difficult to pin down something so frightfully original. Part of the difficulty is that the band covers so damn much ground in a single song that you run out of words, and you can only use the
phrase "off-kilter" so much.

I suppose I can offer these appropriately disconnected thoughts: The Runners Four feels like a step toward the mainstream, but it still leaves the band miles away from it. Greg Saunier was once the best musician in this band by a margin. He's still phenomenal, but the gap is shrinking. This record fulfills the promise of The Green Cosmos (an EP released earlier this year) that seemed, after the majestic Milkman (2004), to be another step toward cleaner and often more danceable sounds. The record does taper off. The strength of the record falls in the middle with the slinky guitar and plunky bass of "Wrong Time Capsule," the shimmering chirp of "Spirit Ditties of No Tone," the pulsing then driving then abruptly stopping "Scream Team," and the jumpy "You Can See," which opens up to multi-voiced beauty in the mid-section. "After Me the Deluge" is dreamy perfection. She chirrups. Listen to Deerhoof. Listen to Deerhoof. Chirrup, chirrup.

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