Deerhoof don’t fake the funk; they’ve just never been lovable, is the thing. Eight full-lengths in, the Frisco noise-pop quartet has seen inches of respect for their rock-meets-modern classical etudes and savant nonchalance. The hearts they’ve touched number fewer though, as only a specific stripe of geek swoons for frontwoman Satomi Matsuzaki’s J-pop head voice, her hokey-pokey aloofness onstage, and her playpen musings on ducks, half-rabbit half-dogs, and cloud-dwelling kidnappers. Consider Deerhoof indie’s boy geniuses, making music about rock but rarely rocking, quoting Fromm but never kissing.
Now, finally, the band could weak-knee a riot grrrl. Those first six tracks on The Runners Four talk smooth, Matsuzaki’s melodies no longer cutesy chirps so much as suspenseful, full-bodied sonnets. “Running Thoughts” takes cues from Sublime Frequencies’ South Asian enchantments, a smoky a-go-go that won’t stop till horn rims everywhere hoop the hula. Drummer Greg Saunier has learned when to hold back, letting songs like “Spirit Ditties of No Tone” explode on their own instead of Saunier exploding upon them. In the homesick pirate ballad “Odyssey,” flanged guitars grind a chromatic step apart, threatening armageddon more convincingly than a thousand simultaneous cymbal crashes ever could.
By the seventh track, “Wrong Time Capsule,” the song doesn’t remain the same. John Dieterich’s guitar calls the band to arms like Sly Stone got his fam dancing, and for the rest of Runners the Hoofies take turns bubbling over Matsuzaki’s brûlée. Twist the “Siriustar” jack-in-the-box singsong enough and Deerhoof give indie rock 2005 its most ferocious surprise: an unapologetic arena rock guitar riff in through out doors neutral milk nerds never knew existed. Deerhoof may have shorn their Samson locks, but they’ve kept their face bristly—and stubble is always sexy.