Considering Deerhoof's discography, it's fitting that—at least until now—the San Francisco quartet's most critically acclaimed album, 2002's Reveille, was also their most challenging. For six full-lengths, an EP, and several seven-inch singles, critics and fans have hailed Deerhoof for their constant invention upon the assumptions of pop music. Reveille deconstructed basic pop and hard-rock ingredients—Satomi Matsuzaki's cartoony coo, drummer Greg Saunier's often thunderous percussion, and John Dieterich's ambidextrous guitar work—and reassembled them into sections of towering, brash din that transitioned effortlessly into placid, hyperglycemic interludes.
2003's Apple O' found that approach still evident, if slightly refined by the addition of second guitarist Chris Cohen. Then 2004's Milk Man, a concept album about a ghostly milkman who tried to lure children into his mysterious dreamland, interjected keyboards and the occasional drum-machine stuttering into what had become a somewhat more straightforward songwriting approach. This year's Green Cosmos EP, initially a Japan-only release, surveyed new styles for the quartet, from the title track's Latin percussion to the Avalanches-style club/soundtrack grooves of "Spiral Golden Town." Cosmos expertly test-drove such disparate interests, hinting that the band was on the verge of change.
It's of little surprise, then, to find their latest album, The Runners Four, such a reserved and delightful pop masterpiece. Take the shimmering fuzz-groove of "Running Thoughts," or the garagey guitar jaunt of "O'Malley, Former Underdog," on which Matsuzaki soars above the lifting chorus, singing "Everybody fades away/We got carried away." Still more straight-thinking, "Midnight Bicycle Mystery" and "Siriustar" are something of a revisit to Reveille/Apple O'–era Deerhoof, but this time around, the decreased presence of Saunier's drumming and the jam-feel of Cohen and Dieterich's lucid guitar interplay gives even these songs a dose of levity. And throughout Four, Matsuzaki's bass chugs along with unprecedented simplicity. Four is the work of a band that several albums ago proved they could repeatedly dissect conventional structures into beautiful disarray, only to now reassemble the components into compositions of subdued pop bliss.