When Kill Rock Stars guru Slim Moon founded sister label 5 Rue
Christine in 1997, it seemed like it would be little more than a shadow of KRS. Its first few releases were from side projects of members of more popular and established bands. Replikants was an outlet for the more dissonant tendencies of Unwound personnel; Schema was basically Hovercraft and Stereolab jamming in the same recording studio. Other than these aforementioned connections, the music had little else to justify its purchase--but oh, how great things can rise from humble beginnings!
Within the past year, 5RC has put together a roster that puts much its parent label's recent output to shame. Listen to the hyperactive math-rock of duo Hella; the depressing, histrionic gothic techno of Xiu Xiu; the spastic, trebly new wave of the Seconds; or the loose, minimal dirges of the Young People. You'll discover a library of challenging, innovative rock that, at its current rate of quality and productivity, will equal that of Touch and Go before decades end.
Add Deerhoof's Reveille to 5RC's parade of hits. The band's last release on this label, Holdypaws, was a failed, though occasionally engrossing, attempt to harness its attention deficit disorder into conventional song craft. This time around, Deerhoof deliver on the promise set by their debut album, The Man, the King, the Girl, by finally accepting the fact that their music is best at its most fragmented.
Reveille's first proper song, "This Magnificent Bird Will Rise," begins with an ominous spoken-word piece about Mother Nature exacting her revenge on mankind. One by one, the familiar elements of a Deerhoof song enter the mix: acrobatic, over-modulated drumming, jangling Mersey Beat guitars, squealing feedback, childlike keyboard melodies, and the shy vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki.
These elements are arranged in the same kind of recombinant logic that drives records like Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. At first, each instrument sounds like it's playing in a different time signature from the others, putting the listener in a state of confusion. Just when one is about to dismiss the proceedings as artsy jerking off, the band launches into a coherent, stomping riff that underscores the care put into this seemingly haphazard music. Don't get too comfortable, though, because at the precise moment you do, the music will uncoil once again. Back and forth, from chaos to order, from melody to noise, from high fidelity to low fidelity, from No Wave to sound collage to garage punk, Reveille is a record that steadfastly refuses to make up its mind.
Acoustic ditty "The Eyebright Bugler" uses our Pavlov-like response to our favorite songs as a metaphor for how we compromise our individuality in other areas of our lives. It's pretty heavy stuff, but with only four sentences and forty-two seconds of music, it has the concision and catchiness of Guided by Voices' best work. Eight-minute centerpiece "The Last Trumpeter Swan" layers two-note pendulum guitars on top of insistent drum heartbeats, only to segue into a dissonant arpeggio that's as tense as the chase scene of an action movie. The androgynous vocals, droning organs, and metronome rhythm of "Top Tim Rubies" make it sound like a long-lost Stereolab four-track demo. "Holy Night Fever" is Deerhoof's mangled take on Southern-fried boogie-rock, and "Days and Nights in the Forest" is slow-core interrupted by random bursts of noise.
Interspersed with the proper songs are bits of found sound, some of
which sound like a man clumsily practicing his keyboard scales, others like a drum circle composed entirely of whining babies. These snippets only add to the exhilarating stream-of-consciousness flow of the album. In thirty-three minutes, Deerhoof go through more twists and turns than even the band's own peers will manage in their entire careers. None of this would matter, though, if the band didn't maintain such a strong grasp over its whims. With Reveille, music and anti-music are engaged in a vicious arm-wrestling match that ends in a draw; true victory belongs to the brave souls who choose to purchase this record.