Milk Man is one of the oddest Deerhoof albums, but then with Deerhoof that is always a good thing
. The album cover
is mostly white, with a line drawing of a smiling, bloody, cartoon man who has a strawberry and two bananas shoved violently into him
. This is apparently the Milk Man. The cover was designed by a friend of the band, Ken Kagami, who often contributes to Deerhoof merchandise and album art. The image is at once childish and unsettling.
The album opens with the title track, a classic Deerhoof-style rock tune. Satomi Matsuzaki's little-girl-vocals tell about the Milk Man, a magic figure who sneaks into people's houses and coaxes children to follow him to his "dreamland". It's somewhere in between The Night Before Christmas and To Catch a Predator. The next song, Giga Dance, is sinister and vibrant, with a main riff shared by a guitar and organ pounding the notes simultaneously. It does make you want to dance, admittedly. Desapareceré comes as a surprise, in more ways than one. The lyrics are in Spanish, first of all, and the music is basically trip hop. Greg Saunier drives the fast, smooth drum beat while cool piano chords are spaced out on top. The adorable sing-song vocals are at their very highest here.
Then it's back to noise-oriented indie rock. Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain is an instrumental break, designed not to give you a break from the music but rather to break the musical part of your brain. With its rapid insistent honking and totally unnecessary scales being played up and down, it's hard to keep from laughing at this track. It's just funny to hear such wild unconnected music that relates to itself only by how out of place it is. Dog On The Sidewalk is another song that comes out of nowhere. It's a minute-and-a-bit of electronic glitch. Except for a few seconds of drumming at the start, there is no beat, only bubbling clicks, pops, and Matsuzaki's off-the-wall chanting. By this point Deerhoof has gone from rock, to noise rock, to just noise. With C, they come back to noise rock, repeating their tried and true method of playing the same sounds over and over until you get used to it, and then changing it. By the end of C you are listening to what sounds remarkably like seagulls screeching. Milking is a little more normal, but not by much.
Dream Wanderer's Tune starts to wind the album down. It's mostly on the organ with some small contributions by other instruments, slow and feather-soft, lyrics wistful and sleepy. After that, Milk Man forgets it was winding down and wakes the listener up with the crazy Song of Sorn. This song starts out as hissing silence, and someone playing random piano keys, testing them out. There are a couple simple scales, and then suddenly it leaps into this tinkling tune, and guitar and whiny vocals soon join it. They play back and forth, and right near the end congeal into an actual palatable song, which is soon over. That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light comes next and is another unpredictable instrumental song filled with silly guitar phrases like in Rainbow Silhouette.
The final track, New Sneakers, is another slow organ song, like Dream Wanderer's Tune, and closes the album under the pretense that the whole absurd mess can easily be concluded by putting a quiet song at the end. By this point you should be satisfied though, and for all its mindlessness, the levity of the album is such that it can be concluded this way. Most Deerhoof albums work this way. Friendly at first, they welcome themselves in, rearrange your furniture in incomprehensible ways, and show themselves the door, flashing a smile on the way out. You watch them for half an hour, and although you don't understand what is happening, you've already decided you would invite them over again.
1. Milk Man (4:23)
2. Giga Dance (2:58)
3. Desapareceré (4:07)
4. Rainbow Silhouette of the Milky Rain (4:16)
5. Dog on the Sidewalk (1:13)
6. C (4:00)
7. Milking (3:36)
8. Dream Wanderer's Tune (2:19)
9. Song of Sorn (2:25)
10. That Big Orange Sun Run Over Speed Light (2:02)
11. New Sneakers (2:14)
Milk Man is an impressive album for many reasons. First of all, there are a variety of genres and sounds that Deerhoof is comfortable with. Going from trip hop to glitch isn't so impressive, but inserting noisy garage rock in the middle of it and making it sound right is worth applauding. Another area this album succeeds in is making use of single sounds. Many songs have no real melody except for in the vocals, which are delightful and dreamy here, as always. There are lots of punk and rock songs that use three chords, but they always use them together. The typical Milk Man song has one chord repeating for a minute before it changes, and somehow they make this work by making the guitar a rhythm instrument like the drum. The single-sound concept transfers all responsibility for melody to the singing, while allowing the rhythm section more freedom. Of course, Deerhoof is not known for being predictable or following rules, so there are almost as many exceptions to this as there are examples.
Milk Man is a quick listen with a lot of memorable, catchy songs, and they work very well together. In short, it's an excellent album, and a great way to be introduced to Deerhoof if you've never listened to them before. The electronic aspect that some songs have is a welcome addition, and it doesn't stand out despite being an unusual move for the band. Milk Man exemplifies the widely-embraced early Deerhoof sound while taking a tentative, commendable step forward.
Milk Man - Deerhoof - 2004 - Kill Rock Stars