[9 March 2004]
I should point out, before reviewing this album, that milk men (or “milk carriers”, if we want to be gender-neutral and dammit I think we should) no longer exist. They are relics of a bygone era, archaic symbols of suburban adultery if anything. Certainly a milk man is not the bizarre nightmare creature that this album dreams up and takes to the indie bank. Is that the milk man on the cover, the Ken Kagami figure with bananas coming out of his armpit and ass, the rictus-grin hood, the bleeding strawberry?
This new Deerhoof album’s pretty good though. Not as consistently strange and brilliant as Apple O’ or Reveille, mind you, but yeah verily it doth bring the forth the (restrained) noise. Rather than tightening up their act (as they seemed to have been doing on Apple O’) they take their milkman-related ideas, squash them flat, and stretch them square. Sort of like a fringed jazzy prog-rock throw rug. For leaving the bottles on.
The title track, which opens the album, is unsurpassable. The cascading guitar hook sounds like Bill Nelson sitting in with Kansas round about ‘78, the drums thunder like Gloria, and that’s all before the song becomes sorta complicated. Time changes and chord shifts wrestle around on the musk-stained sunbeam-lit afternoon rug of new love. When you hear it, you’ll smile: it sounds happy, like power-pop-bubblegum-prog-noise is supposed to sound. As always, you can’t always quite tell what that chirpy Satomi Matsuzaki is singing, but in this case a glance at the lyric sheet is instructive: “Milk man smiles to you ‘Hi’ in a nude / ‘This banana stuck in my arms / Oh my love!’” It’s that guy from the album cover! And he’s a scary dream-dude like Freddy Krueger! And here I was celebrating the gentle blossoming of springtime by putting this amazing song on permanent repeat. I’m feeling something here, what’s it called again? Cognitive dissonance?
The rest of the album sounds like Deerhoof-in-theory: zero standout tracks, an abundance of groovy sonics. The milk man reappears on occasion, giving the impression we’re listening to a concept album. On “Desaparecere”, keybs that sound straight out of Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” vie with Matsuzaki’s whispery Spanish-language canticle, and the beat is electronic! “Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain” is a wonderful karmolodic instrumental, all staccato guitarisms and zany clang-atmospherics. The flirtation with electronica resumes in “Dog on the Sidewalk”, which has random beeps and dits all over it, clearly the evocation of a dog taking a tinkle.
Note to cognoscenti: you’ll recognize “Song of Sorn” from the Kill Rock Stars Fields and Streams compilation; you’ll dig the Deep-Purple-haunted-house atmospherics of “Giga Dance”; and you’ll wonder why album closer “New Sneakers” is so totally lame (“Strawberry fields and banana trees / Banana fields and strawberry trees” etc. etc., apparently the theme of their website now). But on the whole I bet you’ll dig it while at the same time resigning yourself to its relative mediocrity. Me, I particularly love the song “Milking”, which has some forward rock star momentum, an allusive fairy tale anti-war slant, plus a shitty guitar solo!
This album evades a raking over my coals because of the brilliant title track, which keeps me listening, and because as an art-rock quartet they’ve generated some great background music here. Deerhoof have either fired their Muse or the band’s just all treadmilled and petered out (I vote the latter). I’m not frightened by the milk man at all. Whereas, both of the band’s previous albums entered my dreams constantly, they still do! So caveat emptor, and let’s hope they scout the reefs and prod the gods more thoroughly next time around.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/deerhoof-milkman/