Dusting Off…. 'The Runners Four' by Deerhoof
Who are they?
Every now and then you come across an artist, or a band, that makes you think “Why aren’t they more well-known?”
Deerhoof have been around for almost 20 years now and their influence has been cited by a host of artists including The Flaming Lips, TV On The Radio and Sufjan Stevens. They have also supported the likes of Radiohead on world tours and travelled extensively promoting the 12 studio albums they have released over the last two decades. Despite all this, they have never really matched the commercial success of some of their more famous admirers and while it would be unfair to describe them as ‘underground’– they are by now pretty well-established – you probably won’t be hearing them on mainstream radio anytime soon.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that Deerhoof are a very difficult band to describe. In one of the more creative attempts to pin down their sound, one review of their 2004 album Milk Man read: “Imagine songs by the Who being thrashed out by the Teletubbies and you’re about fifty percent of the way there…”
Formed in San Francisco in 1994 by drummer Greg Saunier and guitarist Rob Fisk, Deerhoof began as a noisy, experimental post-punk outfit, eventually joined in the late 90s by a second guitarist, John Dietrich, and singer Satomi Matsuzaki. They were still working day jobs at this point, but their next two records, Reveille and Apple O’, were met with some critical acclaim, prompting the decision to record and tour full time in 2003. Two more albums followed (Milk Man, Green Cosmos) before they returned to the studio once more in 2005 to begin work on what may well be their masterpiece.
Why should I revisit?
First of all, there are an impressive 20 tracks on the standard version (with two more on a deluxe edition), so if nothing else this is a record that represents value for money, but there is much more on offer here. By the time you reach the chorus on the third track, ‘Running Thoughts’, you begin to realise why Deerhoof are such a difficult band to categorise. Never predictable, The Runners Four swerves from raucous art-rock one minute to swooning melodies reminiscent of the Beach Boys the next, but it never feels forced together. Saunier’s explosive drumming style is both complemented by Dietrich’s highly inventive guitar dexterity and juxtaposed by Matsuzaki’s almost child-like vocals and as strange and disparate as these elements are individually, when thrown together in one package, somehow it just works.
Other standout moments include the thrashy surf rock of ‘Scream Team’, the lurching rhythms of ‘Sprit Ditties of No Tone’ and the bafflingly beautiful ‘You Can See’, not to mention the riff-tastic ‘Wrong Time Capsule’ and ‘Twin Killers’. We could go on, but the fact is there’s barely a bad track on this record and with 20 to choose from, we’d be here all day.
Who will enjoy it?
Fans of the aforementioned bands Deerhoof have influenced will enjoy this record, as will anyone with an ear for experimental but well crafted alt-rock. If you’re a fan of The Pixies, Camera Obscura or even Yoko Ono, this is an album you really should add to your collection. And if you get the chance to see them live on one of their rare visits to the UK, grab it with both hands.