The Runners Four (Kill Rock Stars)


Released October 11, 2005

New York Times Best Jazz Albums of 2005




Deerhoof play with a primal abandon and molten group chemistry that remains untamed since the band’s early days. Still, at nearly twice the length of their previous albums, “The Runners Four” is more complex and challenging than anything they’ve recorded. This is more than rock; it’s a wholesale rewrite of the rock and roll dictionary. Deerhoof herald the era of the defiant DIY album. The Runners Four: a quartet of racers, chasers, messengers, even smugglers, gleefully smashing through outmoded boundaries, bearing gifts of sonic contraband. This is Deerhoof’s magnificent autobiography.

Track Listing:

1. Chatterboxes (Deerhoof) 02:32

2. Twin Killers (Deerhoof) 02:16

3. Running Thoughts (Deerhoof) 03:44

4. Vivid Cheek Love Song (Deerhoof) 02:14

5. O’Malley, Former Underdog (Deerhoof) 02:16

6. Odyssey (Deerhoof) 02:55

7. Wrong Time Capsule (Deerhoof) 02:52

8. Spirit Ditties of No Tone (Deerhoof) 04:07

9. Scream Team (Deerhoof) 02:40

10. You Can See (Deerhoof) 03:20

11. Midnight Bicycle Mystery (Deerhoof) 01:59

12. After Me the Deluge (Deerhoof) 03:59

13. Siriustar (Deerhoof) 04:37

14. Lemon and Little Lemon (Deerhoof) 02:04

15. Lightning Rod, Run (Deerhoof) 02:15

16. Bone-Dry (Deerhoof) 02:15

17. News from a Bird (Deerhoof) 01:23

18. Spy on You (Deerhoof) 02:12

19. You’re Our Two (Deerhoof) 02:24

20. Rrrrrrright (Deerhoof) 03:57


Chris Cohen: bass, vocals

John Dieterich: guitar, vocals

Satomi Matsuzaki: guitar, vocals

Greg Saunier: drums, vocals

Produced by Deerhoof

Artwork: Trevor Shimizu


In general, I will have nothing to do with rock songs about small, cute things. I’m irritated on deep frequencies by the weedy-voiced, we-are-children tradition of indie rock – from Jonathan Richman signifying about leprechauns, to Calvin Johnson, with his group, Beat Happening, inviting you to his playhouse.

But a few songs recorded by the San Francisco band Deerhoof over the last couple of years are the exceptions to my rule. You frequently hear a childhood echo in Deerhoof’s songs because the band’s principal singer, Satomi Matsuzaki, has a naturally girlish voice. But when this happens, you can be sure it will be followed by some heavy-gauge catharsis, throwing the childlike stuff into a different light.

Since its music came together with its fourth album, “Reveille,” in 2002, Deerhoof has had a track record of at least one excellent record a year. (In 2004 and 2005, there have been two a year; 2005 has had “Green Cosmos,” an EP in Japan, with weirdly synthetic songs and partly Japanese lyrics.) But “The Runners Four,” out this week, is nearly twice the length of any before, and its songs up the ante: more tender, more aggressive, more moving, more logical, more abstract. It is something most indie rock bands take a long time to achieve, if ever: a heavy footfall, a defining statement.

It used to seem that Deerhoof’s one great idea was the opposition between light-sweet and heavy-raucous, the chirp and the mortar blast, the high end and the low end. In the band’s live shows, there would be a tender song of great sophistication and some inscrutability, then the next one would go nasty, stomping and careening, with the drummer, Greg Saunier, doubled over his kit and hitting so hard that he made kindling of his sticks. Saunier in general has been an imposing presence, but now the four members seem like equal shareholders in the sound, and in “Runners” the band also makes lateral moves between styles and sounds, not just high and low.

Just what kind of band is this? Well, one with an obvious interest in late-’60s English rock, with the flashy momentum of the drum fills, and the riff with the suspended-fourth chord in “Vivid Cheek Love Song” that makes you think of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” But “Wrong Time Capsule” begins with a double-stopped guitar line that sounds like Neil Young with Crazy Horse, parts of “Lemon Little Lemon” recall an ebb-tide jam at a Grateful Dead show and “News From a Bird” is, for all intents and purposes, free jazz. Occasionally, the crisscrossing rows of single notes played by the guitarists, Chris Cohen and John Dieterich, suggest patterns on Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica.”

But don’t be misled by these resemblances: Deerhoof is one of the most original rock bands to have come along in the last decade. And – this does not necessarily follow from the last point – Saunier and company have become very good songwriters.

Matsuzaki, who also plays bass in the quartet, never sang or played an instrument before joining the group 10 years ago, and her thin voice is an acquired taste; many of the English lyrics she sings do not use stresses where normal speech puts them, which can make them nearly impossible to understand.

But that voice (as well as Saunier’s similarly airy voice, the opposite of his drumming style) makes the music even more mysterious. And with the band at this level of songwriting achievement, it might not be surprising if Deerhoof, like Radiohead, came to be taken seriously for its composing.

Ben Ratliff (The New York Times)