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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
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+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
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The Runners Four (Review #1)
Kill Rock Stars

Deerhoof's eighth full-length ought to be chaotic. Its parts are disparate — Satomi Matsuzaki's tiny bird-like voice, the very muscular, distorted guitars of Chris Cooper and John Dieterich, and the complicated tonal percussion Greg Saunier uses to underline and comment on off-kilter melodies — and they shouldn't come together smoothly, or indeed at all. Still, they do, with fractured dreamworld logic. It's like a parallel universe where sugary girl-groups coexist with barbed-wire post-punk rhythm sections, and juddering eighth-note guitars blast across post-rock landscapes like laser guns and ricochet off weird-shaped rocks and plant materials.

Like Milkman, this latest album is very cleanly produced, letting each song's distinct elements breathe and have impact. Sometimes, as on opening "Chatterboxes," the band moves in unison, with nervous guitar chords echoing Matsuzaki's fragile melodies. At others, opposing sounds seem to collide, setting off sparks and dissonances, yet remaining firmly anchored in pop context. "O'Malley, Former Underdog" is like this, putting a dizzying array of ideas in play, yet sounding like a deconstructed, prism-fractured Apples in Stereo song.

When Satomi is singing — that is, most of the time — Deerhoof create a wonderful tension between loud and soft, high and low. Her singing works in piccolo range, pure tone without audible emotion, breath or vibrato. Perhaps because it's so high, her very soft voice floats above abrasive, rock-oriented instruments ("Twin Killers") or waits for breaks in the momentum to make itself heard ("Vivid Cheek Love Song"). Her duel with abstract percussive lines and fast-picked guitars in "Spirit Ditties of No Tone" is perhaps the most exciting example of divergent, fast-moving parts that somehow mesh into a single machine, though the free-jazz leaning "Running Thoughts" has the same combination of challenge and reward. It sounds like an entirely different band when the men in the group take over singing, less frantic and contradictory, more thoughtful and consciously beautiful. "Odyssey," with its slow-strummed guitar and bare vocals, is a tranquil island in this challenging album, and "Bone-Dry," later on, glows with mysterious loveliness.

The Runners Four is much longer than previous Deerhoof albums, with 20 songs and nearly an hour of material, but unlike many extended CDs, there's no point where you listen and say, "OK, they're running out of ideas." In fact, the album's final cut, "Rrrrrrright," is an album highlight. Here the bass and drums move together in a chugging, staccato juggernaut, while swooping classic-rock guitar lines slash in and out of the mix. Satomi's impossibly delicate voice bobs and weaves over the whole thing, insouciantly "nah-nah-nah-nah-ni"-ing over a roiling thundercloud of rock 'n' roll distortion. In a way, the song is a metaphor for the entire album, its structure and melody unsettling and unexpected, yet transmuted into certainty with sheer energy, intelligence and imagination.

by Jennifer Kelly

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