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Deerhoof - Milk Man

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Artist: Deerhoof

Album: Milk Man

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Mar. 16, 2004

Deerhoof have met their visual doppelganger in artist Ken Kagami. His drawings adorn their sixth full-length album, Milk Man, and even provide a main character for Satomi Matsuzaki's surreal lyrics. Kagami's milk man smiles like a jack-o-lantern and flexes with two bananas stabbed into his body. Are they bleeding, or is that harmless juice from his strawberry hat? Is he smiling, or is that a sneer? And why does he wear a mask? As with Deerhoof's crunchy power chords and sugary kindergarten lyrics, the line between abrasive aggression and childish play disappears in favor of an alluring combination.

Deerhoof's particular combination has raised the bar in recent years. Their two previous albums, Apple O' and Reveille, expertly combine chunky, arrhythmic rock with petite melodic pop, and add a dash of shuffling abstraction for good measure. Their Japanese prog plus Cibo Matto style jumps out of the stereo, and, needless to say, the stage. Apple O' features the tightly interlocking guitars of John Dieterich and Chris Cohen. Less than sounding "together," they sound like one person who just happens to have four happy hands. Dieterich and Cohen ride atop the manic drumming of Greg Saunier, and the three stop on a dime, turn in a circle, and take off in the opposite direction whenever they want.

On Milk Man, "Song of Sorn" and "That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light" feature stadium-rock guitar chords locked with drum grooves that alternate with keyboard ditties. "Milk Man" and "Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain" also stay on the more rocking side. These songs betray an important change, however. Guitar lines push songs forward more than expected, or put another way, the drumming plays a background, supporting role. On Apple O', Saunier's drumming often stomped around the beat and shuffled between rhythms, tugging at the other players and demanding more from them. He played a more prominent role on older records that used even less structure and more cacophony. On Milk Man, the drums merely keep things steady and only occasionally jolt the tempo.

New to the Deerhoof arsenal is an emphasis on electronics. Keyboards and drum machines take the lead on "Desaparecere" and "New Sneakers," two excellent ditties that chart new and melodic pop territory. Deerhoof prove themselves equally adept at creating catchy, subtle sounds as grooving, chunky ones. "Dream Wanderer's Tune" walks a big elephant bass line into a wistful song and "Giga Dance" takes a Gothic turn with its repetitive organ.

Milk Man trades some of the rhythmic dynamics featured in previous records for longer songs and Saunier's keyboard work. In the grand scheme of things, Deerhoof have moved away from abstract rock noise and toward more familiar structure, without losing the spontaneity of their genre-clashing sound. This album still collects an eclectic bunch of ideas and jams them together with all the joy and fearlessness in which Deerhoof specialize, but its extremes don't smack as hard as previous records.

By Jeff Seelbach

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Deerhoof vs. Evil

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Find out more about 5 Rue Christine

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