Deerhoof The Runners Four

[Kill Rock Stars; 2005]

Rating: 5/5

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

Deerhoof are one of very few bands who, besides making me grin madly, can induce fits of genuine laughter. When you're losing count of the rapid punches on that guitar chord in the middle of "Scream Team," and the only breathing room you can find is in the dizzying vocal interruptions, and you're not even close to getting your bearings, and you think you've never been pummeled harder by Deerhoof – not only do they raise the chord on you, but this one is cut short after 14 of its expected 17 strikes by only the briefest chirp of "Team!", as the guitar immediately plunges back into its initial chord, BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.

The music urgently invites this analysis, and although the details are painfully dry in print, in execution this stuff is laugh-out-loud brilliant.

Deerhoof have always been about that kind of detail (or at least, since 1997). The effort and time it would require to explain to somebody the mechanics of most of their songs makes clear just how much effort and time is put into them in the first place. Deerhoof are consistently able to squeeze more ideas into ten seconds of music than most people use in three minutes, and without crippling their songs in the least. Even though you're continually being suckered left and right by their slight-of-hand, somehow it all makes perfect sense, the kind of perfect sense we don't know exists until Deerhoof introduces us to it.

This brand of arduous premeditation abounds on The Runners Four. It's their gravest and most earnest album to date, two points visually embodied in the anti-Magrittian strictness of the cover art. It's clinically, surgically, algebraically precise, though sometimes only thematically. Consider "O'Malley, Former Underdog," which, despite being the poppiest track here, is marked by one of Deerhoof's most stunning displays of economy in composition. Or take "Spirit Ditties of No Tone," with its alien lockstep of a riff, whose cold, sharp, metallic guitar strings seem to magnetize even the iron in your bloodstream.

The chemical reference is no accident, as there is much about this album that evokes the acrid smell of the laboratory. We're given visions of explosive bubble chambers, strangeness and charm, quantum fireworks, bristling electrons, Van de Graaff generators, phosphenes. The sound of grinding clockwork sprocketry appears in two of the tracks and is suggested by many others. All of this is aided in great part by the caustic, staticky timbre that courses like a synaptic current through most of the album, probably best exemplified by the spacious, shimmering guitar freak-out that fills the last two minutes of "Running Thoughts."

As always, there is a softer side to be found, but rather than taking the form of Deerhoof's established doe-eyed cuteness, The Runners Four relies on the buoyant (and often acoustic) balladry of songs like "Vivid Cheek Love Song," "Odyssey," and "After Me the Deluge." Another major element in this departure is the shocking prevalence of male vocals, which (in addition to allowing for one of Deerhoof's most crushingly beautiful moments, in their first three-part harmony) lends a reserved maturity previously unattainable by shrill Satomi. These unfamiliar falsettos may take some getting used to, but they're wholly necessary for the success of the album.

There are countless specific moments I would love to discuss in greater detail: the 60 seconds of near-silent white space at the end of "Spirit Ditties;" the abstract improvisational groove that leads into "Midnight Bicycle Mystery;" the haunting anomaly that is "Bone-Dry;" the deceptive subtlety of "Odyssey;" the second guitar solo in "Wrong Time Capsule;" the whistling tune in "Running Thoughts;" but I'll spare you. Instead I'll only emphasize that this is nothing short of a monumental piece of work, an imposingly rich, labyrinthine hallucination. It quakes and screams with life. Deerhoof are charging ahead with more momentum than ever. Hooray, O'Malley, run!

1. Chatterboxes
2. Twin Killers
3. Running Thoughts
4. Vivid Cheek Love Song
5. O'Malley, Former Underdog
6. Odyssey
7. Wrong Time Capsule
8. Spirit Ditties of No Tone
9. Scream Team
10. You Can See
11. Midnight Bicycle Mystery
12. After Me the Deluge
13. Siriustar
14. Lemon and Little Lemon
15. Lightning Rod, Run
16. Bone-Dry
17. News From a Bird
18. Spy on You
19. You're Our Two
20. Rrrrrrright

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