They were called The Runners Four...
...Always slipping through the back door...
Deerhoof has kept up an impressive album-a-year pace since 1999's Holdypaws, even with their voyage out of total obscurity and into the more lucrative world of slight obscurity, not to mention their voyage into the record collections of indie rock fans worldwide. In 2005, this was accomplished with The Runners Four. Sticking mostly with albums that barely pass the half hour mark, this 56-minute-1-second epic is a monolith in comparison. Monolith is a heavy word and it feels uncomfortable to associate Deerhoof with weight of any kind. Deerhoof is very often spontaneous and cheery, and can be sarcastic and mock-sinister, but they are never heavy.
The Runners Four, even for a Deerhoof fan, does suffer for its length. It's not the weirdest album they've put out, but it's difficult to remain enthusiastic and bouncy for nearly an hour, especially during the first couple listens, and especially after enjoying so many thirty-minute masterpieces. This is not an ideal way to be exposed to Deerhoof for the first time, which is a shame because of the individual gems that are embedded here. Another flaw the album suffers from is that these gems are all bunched up by the beginning. I often find myself bored with the album after taking in "Twin Killers," "Running Thoughts," "O'Malley, Former Underdog," and "Wrong Time Capsule" within the first seven tracks and having nothing to look forward to for the remaining thirteen. That's not entirely true; it's a very good album, but those four I mentioned are all on my list of top ten Deerhoof songs of all time, and thus the album structure suffers from top-heaviness. People have different tastes however, and I hope that your personal favourites will end up being spread evenly throughout.
I did say that there are some great songs here for introducing new listeners to the silliest band San Francisco has produced. Running Thoughts in particular is a great track, due mostly to its humourous parodic nature. Lots of Deerhoof songs can be considered funny, whether for absurd, bombastic guitar riffs like in My Diamond Star Car (Apple O'), or nonsensical lyrics you can't believe you're hearing and liking, like the "panda pan-da panda" from Panda Panda Panda (Apple O' as well). Running Thoughts, the album's title-track-with-a-different-title, features a sweetly-sung ode by vocalist/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki to the made-up team of legendary smugglers, The Runners Four. It feels exactly like a parody of a some 90's sentai show theme song, and every time I hear it I imagine four spandex-clad figures zooming across a bay in a speedboat, trying to convey deadly seriousness while still appealing to children. It's both cheesy and exciting; despite myself I always get caught up in the spirit of it.
O'Malley, Former Underdog is another fantastic song. It's pretty simple, like most Deerhoof lyrics, and it's pretty straightforward too, unlike most Deerhoof lyrics. Like Running Thoughts, this is a heroic story (a theme emerges?), though this one seems to be about young boy who wins a race. The song goes back and forth from encouraging ("hooray, O'Malley run!") to helpful advice in ungainly Engrish ("If you're overly confident, then it's over before beginning the good part!"). It's cute, catchy, inspiring, and leaves you feeling proud of the fictional O'Malley and his hard-won victory.
The Runners Four is, both chronologically and in terms of weirdness, nestled securely in the middle of Deerhoof's releases. I can't tell whether recent albums like Friend Opportunity are genuinely less weird, or if we've all become accustomed to their particular style, one that seemed so novel when first we heard of this noise rock avant-pop band. Certainly, with 20 tracks they have a handful that wouldn't be out of place on mainstream radio, but most of them continue the classic Deerhoof legacy. It doesn't come off as watered-down, but rather more mature and restrained. It's regrettable to me that Deerhoof is moving in that direction, but we'll always have Milkman. In terms of sound, it's very guitar-driven, and quite a bit more structured than their earlier work. In numerous places a Frank Zappa influence can be heard, which fits in nicely.
This album is good, but long. It has great songs, but all near the beginning. It marks the start of the band's slow cruise into normalcy. I have found that it is a fantastic album to play in the background, especially if you like the band, but to me Deerhoof is the kind of band that should capture your attention, holding it hostage and teasing it, and in that respect it fails after the first ten minutes. Because of that, it simply does not measure up to their previous successes: those few amazing songs alone just aren't enough to energize the entire work.
1. Chatterboxes - 2:32
2. Twin Killers - 2:16
3. Running Thoughts - 3:45
4. Vivid Cheek Love Song - 2:14
5. O'Malley, Former Underdog - 2:16
6. Odyssey - 2:55
7. Wrong Time Capsule - 2:52
8. Spirit Ditties of No Tone - 4:07
9. Scream Team - 2:40
10. You Can See - 3:20
11. Midnight Bicycle Mystery - 1:59
12. After Me the Deluge - 3:59
13. Siriustar - 4:37
14. Lemon and Little Lemon - 2:04
15. Lightning Rod, Run - 2:15
16. Bone-Dry - 2:15
17. News from a Bird - 1:23
18. Spy on You - 2:12
19. You're Our Two - 2:24
20. Rrrrrrright - 3:57
Deerhoof - The Runners Four - 2005 - Killrockstars