splendid > reviews > 3/9/2004
Milk Man

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Milking"

Buy me now
I suspect that Deerhoof make more sense when you're drunk. When you've had a few drinks, the world is exhilarating and uncontrollable and you're significantly more likely to fall down a flight of steps. Likewise, listening to Milk Man will get your pulse racing and your head spinning and a few bits of it sound like the band has just fallen down a flight of steps. It follows, then, that if you achieve just the right degree of inebriation, you're actually matching "speed" with Deerhoof's dizzying creative drive, and you'll both appear to be standing still...until you all fall down a flight of steps.

The falling-down-the-steps bit is important, because Deerhoof's most attractive quality is their ability to shred conventional songcraft and reassemble it like a dyslexic's Junior Jumble. We recognize the bits and pieces, and we know they're back-to-front and the wrong way 'round and so forth, but we say nothing. Deerhoof steamroll our doubts. They assemble songs like "That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light", which at first seems permanently stuck in first gear, trading guitar calls and drum responses like an eternal intro. When it finally gets out of the gate, it melts like a butter-sculpture in July, noodly bits of melody and percussion snaking into every sidewalk crack. "Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain" skips straight to the showboating bridge, progressing through frenetic drums and stabbing guitars, evolving into a breathless chase up a tight, jabby rhythmic staircase. Its final minute is a frantic, discordant riff-fistfight that sputters to a noisy close.

Let's remember, though, that without Satomi Matsuzaki's unhinged falsetto crooning, Deerhoof might simply be the world's most disjointed math-rock act. Matsuzaki delivers the goods here, squeezing impressively atonal vocal mileage out of a single sentence and a handful of nonsense syllables in "Dog On the Sidewalk", then fluttering tunefully over "Song of Sorn"'s unexpectedly straightforward conclusion. Longtime Deerhoof fans have learned most of Satomi's "tricks" by now, so her vocals are perhaps less interesting than the logistics of their inclusion. A group so obviously unconcerned with structure doesn't worry about adding vocals three minutes into a song -- or about promising them again and again, as "Rainbow Silhoutte" does, but never delivering.

Milk Man's big surprise is that it's a concept album -- inasmuch as that's possible without a solid concept. It's more a case of persistent lyrical imagery, anchored by a rock-solid title track jammed full of classic rock references. We're introduced to the titular character, who haunts children's dreams and likes to spirit them away to his castle in the air, where...well, it's not at all clear what he does to them, if anything. He just seems to keep them at his castle, and he seems to be more interested in being stabbed with fruit (no idea whether he enjoys it) than he is in offering explanations. It's also unclear whether the imprisoned children, led by the narrator, escape at Milk Man's end -- there are references to the castle crumbling in "Dream Wanderer's Tune", and also hints of a happy ending in "New Sneakers", but nothing (ahem) concrete. And why the hell am I trying to hammer these songs into some kind of coherent framework, anyway? We should be happy that Milk Man provides a home for "Giga Dance"'s fearsome tension and elastic discord; how many conventional pop songs can actually fuck up your circadian rhythm?

There'll come a point when Deerhoof have exhausted all of their tricks; you can probably spot it on the horizon now. If you've heard the group's last few albums, Milk Man won't seem like a notable refinement or a grand statement of purpose; they're just breaking the pop song mold, over and over again, and doing consistently inventive things with the fragments.

When it all starts to seem a bit bewildering, have a couple of drinks and check it again.



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