Deerhoof Milk Man

[Kill Rock Stars/5RC; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: experimental noise-pop
Others: Enon, Blonde Redhead, The Shaggs, Shonen Knife

SPIN recently called Deerhoof's Milk Man "A perfect album." Though I wouldn't go that far, Milk Man is surely one of Deerhoof's most focused and engaging releases. If you've heard any of Deerhoof's previous five full-lengths, you already know that the quartet is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon (think phenomenal cosmic powers in an itty bitty living space). They're an anomaly in rock, possessing the uncanny ability to blend pop with avant-garde elements, without sounding forced or mundane. They're the kind of band you'll want around when your fish dies or when your cell phone battery wears out, when they forget to make your order plain.

Although Milk Man retains this distinctive songwriting craft, the album seems to have lost the luster that graced previous releases. Instead of seemingly spontaneous glimpses of awkward pop goodness with an experimental edge, conceptually-grounded tracks shove their way to the fore, leaving behind the cute, eclectic strokes of past. And their more serious, deft execution transforms your "what the fuck are they doing" expression to a "wow, they really planned this shit out" expression. Consequently, the zany, off-the-wall demeanor has been streamlined a bit more and rationalism has been ushered in, elements that first reared its head on 2003's Apple O'. Deerhoof now seems just as concerned with the audience's reaction as having a fun time.

Nonetheless, Milk Man is still fun to the max, as the late, great Wesley Willis might've said. From "Desapareceré" to "Giga Dance," I still find it hard to believe that any band could write such instant classics without resorting to overblown gimmicks or shock-tactics. Employing awkward time signatures ("That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light"), unbalanced melodies ("Song of Sorn"), unique polyphonic structures ("Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Man"), and just plain weirdness ("Dog in the Sidewalk") Milk Man acts like a pedophile with a pocket full of candy, dropping treats as long as you stay on the ride. Predictably, the album is most similar to Apple O', but while Apple O' seemed to have a somewhat lethargic quality, Milk Man sounds fresh and fully inviting. And it's a lot better.

It's hard to take a band like Deerhoof seriously, especially after such consistently madcap releases. But with Milk Man and Apple O', the band forces you to reconsider their objectives, or at the very least, reconsider your assumptions of what their objectives were in the first place. Perhaps this is where Deerhoof has been heading toward all along. Or perhaps they're in a transitory phase into something bigger and bolder, while the rest of us immature eggheads hold on to the puerile offerings of Deerhoof past. Whatever the case, Milk Man is tight from beginning to end, and hell if I'm going to miss out just because I'm a nostalgic sap.

1. Milk Man
2. Giga Dance
3. Desapareceré
4. Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Man
5. Dog on the Sidewalk
6. C
7. Milking
8. Dream Wanderer's Tune
9. Song of Sorn
10. That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light
11. New Sneakers