Sean's gonna hate me for this, but I'm pulling editorial rank on him. It's not something I usually do, but when a record that I've already reserved for him comes along and floors me in the way that Milk Man has, I simply must step up and claim it for myself. True, he did a great job capturing their essence on their past two albums, which, my friend, is not an easy thing to do. But on first listen, I fell in love with Milk Man, and because I fell in love with this record instantly, I realized that there was something more to Milk Man, a dimension that an already devout fan like Sean could not really understand.
Though I'm a fan of bands like Yoko Ono, The Boredoms and Blonde Redhead, until now I had never really given much consideration to Deerhoof. Though those acts are driven by Japanese vocalists, they existed in worlds all their own, whereas Deerhoof seemed to play too close to the American Indie Slash Art Rock Archetype. True, their last album Apple O was an interesting experiment, and it seemed to be a bit poppier in places, over repeated listens it didn't really stand up. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't breathtaking, either. They gave enough hints of an impending change of directions, though, and that's why I approached this album with a little bit of optimism.
With Milk Man,, though, they make a break for a more accessable sound--and they succeed. Oh, boy, how they succeed! Perhaps it's due to loads of touring, or perhaps it's because the band intentionally set out to restrain some of their weirder urges, I don't know--but the results are more than breathtaking. It's amazing to hear Satori Matsuzaki now, as her voice has grown stronger, much more confident and very, very friendly. What makes her singing better is that her vocals and the music behind her actually seem to FIT TOGETHER; most of what I've heard of Deerhoof before this record seemed to fall into the category of "let's put the vocals of this song on top of the instrumental portion of this song, they don't work together but boy the song sure sounds weird now!" theory. There's none of that to be found here; it's as if everything about being in a band and making records had finally clicked for Deerhoof, because, for once, they sound like a BAND.
What's most obvious, though, is their newfound restraint and refinement. Not everything has to be uber-weird, overcomplicated or funny to a few. True, "Dog On The Side Walk" is a bit odd, and there are brief instrumental flourishes of weirdness such as "That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light" and "C," most of the songs on Milk Man are cohesive, fleshed out songs. "Milk Man," which starts the album, is a straightforward rock song, plain and simple (!!). Sure, the lyrics are odd--and they explain the story of the cover cartoon--but the music isn't anything that's odd or complex or anything of the sort. They slow down and offer a beautfiul song sung in Spanish, "Desaparecere," and they even do some straight up jazz-funk on "Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain." All with utterly oblique lyrics, of course, but the lyrics actually seem to be the least important part of their songs.
Deerhoof have accomplished the impossible: a really, really weird record that sounds totally and utterly accessable. Their past records may have contained hints of some kind of weird art-pop leanings, but with Milk Man they're happily running back and forth over that line between weird and acceptable, and they've succeeded in making the best art-damaged weirdo pop record of the year. While I doubt that this album will be the sudden smash with the Hot Topic set, gaining wide appeal is something that's definitely going to happen. (The only thing about this record that's just flat-out bad is that horrible cover art.) Milk Man is a really great record, period, and you shouldn't be surprised if you hear their music popping up all over the place over 2004.
But, seeing as the main guitar riff on "Milk Man" is stolen from "Everyday People," should you expect any less?