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Deerhoof
Milk Man (Reissue) Mick Middles , July 6th, 2011 10:54

It has been an intriguing year for Da 'oof! Back in February, their preposterously titled Deerhoof Vs Evil (reviewed here) pressed the accelerator. By Deerhoof standards, it was a seemingly accessible mess of cranking, screeching sub-funk and metallic jangle pop, (though hardly 20 party hits). Nevertheless, it did further the cause more effectively than any of their 11 previous albums, even securing the cover slot on Wire magazine. (Although, again, as a magazine that celebrates the shadows of eclecticism, the true element of such exalted exposure is a matter of debate and irony. Does their presence on that organ indicate some kind of noble obscurity?).

However, there is no doubting that interest in Deerhoof has reached new levels... full tents at festivals, larger venues – it only seems a snip of time since I caught them in a tiny Manchester shell – and a curious omnipresence on fringe radio. And all this, it seems, while the band reside individually in Tokyo, Wisconson, Oregon and New York. Separated by distance, united by technology.

Such attention naturally swells interest in a back catalogue that stretches back an astonishing 16 years and, in its own jagged and barbed way, appears to touch and tease most identifiable genres - and quite a few that have yet to be confidently pinned down. Although it is arguable (and aficionados of this band are certainly prone to arguing) it is their 2004 outing Milk Man that continues to attract the most attention. Not necessarily because it is their finest (argue away... go on) but because it is unquestionably the recording that saw the band retreat to 'bunker mentality' and sink back into a comfort zone which might seem to be anything other than comfortable.

This reissue, remastered to a sharpness that 'kind of' evaded the original release, is therefore considered 'timely'. It is certainly the perfect album to touch base... to scratch away and discover the core worth of their music. For it is a 'heart' album and, though it sways haphazardly through a wild mesh of styles that would give the average A&R man a need for serious coronary scanning, it does deliver... well... essence!

It also delivers concept. On the sleeve of Milk Man are the evocative, simplistic, sexual, infantile, mildly threatening and surreal images from the pen of artist Ken Kagami. This is important, for it sets the central element here - this being Kagami's character, Milk Man, who adorns the cover, hooded head topped with a strawberry and stabbed with two bananas. From the heart of this persona we find the loose, free and often percussive lyrics of Satomi Matsuzaki. Milk Man drifts through a separate space, a 'milky' universe, and Matsuzaki's surreal images of him tell a disjointed and, in places, disturbing tale:

"Milk Man sleeps on the roof in the noon,
Banana stabbed in the arms,
Weird man. Ohh la la."

These are the words that kick-start the album, sensually delivered over the most complete back-beat on the album… indeed, it's a musical stance that courageously evokes, among others, Yes and King Crimson, although there is a section of slight discord that literally sets the hairs on end.

The prog elements are not entirely flippant. It is a time honoured Deerhoof trick to slip unexpected echoes into the often disorientating mix. On this album, on 'That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light' and 'Song of Sorn', elements of stadium rock chop in as guitars finally break through the previously dominant percussive attack. In some ways it's a relief, for Deerhoof can be at once illuminating and unsettling. I initially played this album while running late, anxiously shunting a car through dense traffic, and the effect was alarming, pushing me into semi-anxiety. The same album, played a day later in a softened room with candles, seemed like a release – soothing almost – and filled with colour and vibe.

Despite the concept, and again to cement the Deerhoof tradition, each track remains gloriously idiosyncratic. The most effective of these 13 outings is 'Rainbow Silhouette Of The Milky Rain', pure Beefheartian thrust coupled with the free-ist elements of Miles Davis circa Sketches of Spain, and I do not make that comparison lightly. As such, it's the track that completely transcends the floating omnipresence of 'Milk Man', offering new dimensions and peeking into a different arena.

It is, however, just one of many 'battles' on an album where shards of familiarity sneak in to combat the bizarre. The scrap isn't always pretty, and it's certainly unsettling in places, but the most thrilling aspect is the sheer musical abandonment, where ideas are allowed to collide with nerve-tingling results. This might not be the finest Deerhoof outing – again, argue on, if you will – but once senses that it will remain the most notable hinge in their extraordinary (and building) output. For the record, I find it their most enjoyable and, beyond the carnage, there are lovely pop echoes. Marc Bolan, perhaps?

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