Deerhoof’s latest album finds force in new places

“The Runners Four” loses the cuddly animals and some edge

by Keri Carlson

No more songs about pandas, ducks, dogs or any other cute animals. Deerhoof’s new album “The Runners Four” is not as adorable.

No more 30-second quirky outbursts or pop songs buried in a web of noise and sputtering rhythms. Deerhoof is now more cohesive.

It might sound as though the San Francisco group has become less interesting and experimental. In some ways, it’s true.

“The Runners Four” could be a shock to Deerhoof fans because of how normal the record is on first listen.

On last year’s “Milk Man” album, the band wrote longer and more traditionally formed songs. But “Milk Man” still sounded like Deerhoof – only stretched further.

So it makes sense that “The Runners Four” follows the evolution lineage of gradually becoming more of a rock band and less of a noise-pop, experimental, post-whatever band.

Still the new album sounds surprisingly like a straight-forward garage indie pop record.

Because of this, “The Runners Four” will not be Deerhoof’s most acclaimed or memorable album; not when their past album’s like “Reveille” created an entirely unique sound – almost its own genre.

Nonetheless, “The Runners Four” is a good album, and despite the move toward more seemingly typical rock songs, Deerhoof does remain utterly Deerhoof.

The charming rhythmic bounce of the guitars and singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s Pixie-ish falsetto remain.

The biggest risk Deerhoof took on this record was not to move in more of a pop direction, but to emphasize the lyrics.

In the past, Matsuzaki has always sung about cute things, making Deerhoof whimsically sweet and innocent.

“The Runners Four” contains more haunting and abstract imagery. But it maintains Matsuzaki’s endearing lost-in-translation rhymes.

On the song “Twin Killers,” Matsuzaki sings, “Tale of the traitors. Pretty pretty twin sisters. Be kind, be shy we’re all lies. Witty wicked destroyers. Tale of Killers. They’re killers. Showed my back and so long. Never be traitors. Pretty pretty twin sisters.”

The lyrics pose a quality never found in previous Deerhoof songs. They are vague and vivid at the same time.

Even though the music on “The Runners Four” is less cutting-edge for Deerhoof, the band has not gone completely soft. Where the music has rounded its edges, the lyrics have sharpened theirs.