February 9, 2006

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Deerhoof, The Runners Four
Kill Rock Stars, 2005

Long heralded in the indie-rock scene for their adventurous forays into weird and abstract musical experimentations, San Francisco’s Deerhoof only become more stubbornly oblique on their sixth release The Runners Four. Employing sparse instrumentation, the most bare bones of song structures and the most mind-bogglingly inane lyrics since Thom Yorke announced “Yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon,” The Runners Four simultaneously rewrites the rock n’ roll dictionary while also serving as Deerhoof’s calmest and most accessible album to date.

“Chatterboxes,” like many of the record’s songs, sounds endearingly incomplete—a half-finished concept in which John Dieterich and Chris Cohen’s dueling, scattered guitar lines wander about aimlessly and singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki croons in her high-pitched baby-talk voice, “What a wonderful/Magic animal.”

More rounded tunes like “Twin Killers,” “Wrong Time Capsule,” and “Spirit Ditties of No Tone” actually feature some solid dance beats alongside raw, abrasive guitars, which occasionally lapse into ambient feedback drone.

The songs become more fluid and complete as the album progresses, though things do become a tad tedious as the record nears the end of its hour-long running time. Fans of Deerhoof’s earlier heavy assault may initially be turned off by Runners Four’s laid back direction, but it would be a mistake for them to dismiss the record upon first listen. No, The Runners Four follows in the tradition of Wilco’s A Ghost is Born and Radiohead’s Kid A in that patient listeners willing to devote themselves wholly to Deerhoof’s oddball majesty are the ones who will be endlessly rewarded. A-

— Adam Marletta