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Deerhoof - The Runners Four

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Artist: Deerhoof

Album: The Runners Four

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Sep. 28, 2005

Although Deerhoof began over 10 years ago as a project for guitarist Rob Fisk and powerhouse drummer Greg Saunier, it's only been in the past couple of years that the group's revolving door membership has stabilized a bit, coalescing around a core of Saunier, vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, and guitarists John Dietrich and Chris Cohen. The constant addition/subtraction of new members, while not really providing much in terms of a cohesive, easily pegged sound, nonetheless helped drive the bands scattershot noise and pop sensibilities throughout their earliest releases. While in those days the band remained somewhat of a curious anomaly, with the sweetest of pop songs butting up against rather gnarly skronk, the establishment of a reliable lineup has led directly to a steady smoothing over of the bands’ seams. Whereas an album like Reveille leapt haphazardly (and quite amazingly) from one sound to the next, subsequent albums have found the group settling into the role of a quirky and much-loved pop band.

Not that "settling" is necessarily a bad thing, but in Deerhoof's case it's made for subsequent diminishing returns. Had they come from almost any other band, records like 2004’s Milk Man or the subsequent mini-album Green Cosmos would have been surefire high-water marks. However, in the hands of this San Francisco quartet, those two efforts seemed downright conventional. Similarly, The Runners Four, their latest disc, doesn't really do much to re-establish the "anything can happen" mentality that was omnipresent in their older material.

This is not to suggest, however, that the group's latest effort is anything less than a great pop record. Recorded live in their Oakland rehearsal space and without any added post-production trickery, The Runners Four manages to capture the unbridled intensity and utter joy these four carry across in a live setting. And for those of you who have caught one of their shows, you know that's no small feat. Nestled amongst their trademark short bursts of sugary off-kilter madness are some of the best songs Deerhoof has ever mustered. "Running Thoughts" starts off loose and jangly, only to be supplanted by droning keys and some heavily spaced-out guitar work. "Spirit Ditties of No Tone" approaches a surf rock instrumental, with Matsuzaki's vocals under girded by Saunier's familiar deft shuffle. "After the Deluge" finds the band trying their hand at acoustic balladry and sounding right nice, whereas "Siriustar" is a full-throated rocker whose thunderous riff is nestled in between moments of spare introspection.

All in all, whereas previous attempts at categorizing Deerhoof's sound would seem to come from an approximation of their extremes, The Runners Four finds the band continuing to map out the territories of their own distinct brand of pop songcraft. The juxtapositions and transitions are a lot smoother here, which means less satisfaction can be gained from watching the band throw as many sounds against a wall as possible in hopes of seeing what new creation emerges. The end result is a more streamlined version of the Deerhoof we've all come to know and love. One can only imagine what heights these four will scale as they continue to pin down their skewed pop sensibilities.

By Michael Crumsho

Other Reviews of Deerhoof

Apple O'

Milk Man

Bibidi Babidi Boo

Green Cosmos

Friend Opportunity

Offend Maggie

Deerhoof vs. Evil

Breakup Song

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View all articles by Michael Crumsho

Find out more about 5 Rue Christine

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