n every year from 1999 to 2004, Deerhoof has released an album. True, most of these have lasted roughly half an hour, but still, this is impressively productive, especially considering the brilliance of the band’s last two albums, 2002’s Reveille and 2003’s Apple O’.
Through Reveille, Deerhoof’s approach was relatively one-dimensional. Crunchy noise-rock guitars: check. Childlike vocals: check. And so on. But once the band approached the zenith of this arrangement with Reveille, it shrewdly decided to move on. Apple O’ proved to be a far more focused affair than its predecessor, eschewing the one-minute-long experiments with noise in favor of two to three-minute noise-pop songs that, while in keeping with the band’s reckless form, were as carefully arranged as your average indie rock band’s compositions.
This development continues with Milk Man, but sadly, it does not continue enough. For once, it is apparent that Deerhoof should have been gestating for longer than a year, because this is almost their most focused, most diverse album to date, but not quite. Many tracks hint at the notion that Deerhoof decided to make an entirely different album this time around, but counterbalancing these advancements are decidedly flat resurrections of past glories.
Among the most progressive songs is the title track, which opens the album as perhaps its strongest moment. Almost inconceivably, given the band’s formerly legitimate claims to inaccessibility, “Milk Man” could, with enough publicity, find a place on alternative rock radio. The noise remains, but almost as an inside joke; it does not destroy, but instead invites listeners to remember what Deerhoof “should” be doing. Even more surprisingly, the song occasionally wanders into 70s FM territory, which, needless to say, could not be welcomed more.
“Desaparaceré” finds Deerhoof delving into IDM for the first time, sounding like the lost track from the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions that didn’t make it onto either album because it wasn’t quite dark enough (but it certainly was good enough). Not quite as awesome, but similarly advanced are the organs-of-death “Giga Dance” and “C,” which proves Deerhoof capable of manipulating past successes into something truly forward-looking.
For all of this greatness, however, there is compensation. Milk Man consistently and frustratingly veers between often excellent moments of progression and occasionally despicable periods of self-plagiarism. “Milking” is the worst example of the latter group, sounding convincingly like the generic brand to Apple O’’s real thing. “That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light” does the same for Reveille. Filler like “Song of Sorn” and “Dog on the Sidewalk” not only mimics all of the band’s previous filler, but also irritates and bores upon repeated listens.
As a result, Milk Man will not be remembered as the step up it occasionally suggests it is. Deerhoof, it seems, should have waited an extra couple of months this time around in order to provide us an album as excellent and diverse as its highlights are. Nonetheless, if the group continues to push forward and maintains its spectacular rate, signs point towards a fully realized, thoroughly brilliant album come 2005. Or if not, then, at least by 2006.
Reviewed by: Kareem Estefan
Reviewed on: 2004-03-12