Deerhoof plays modest, unassuming rock that moonlights as something else. The working parts are standard indie-world issue: gangly guitars, matter-of-fact production, vocals cooed with a cutesy Japanese accent. But beneath the stock surface lurk extraordinarily moving and complex songs that double as top-shelf compositions. Few bands have such a sure handle on the ways instruments can work together and apart, and Milk Man shows Deerhoof in peak form.
More polished and serviceable than Deerhoof's six previous albums, Milk Man opens with a title track that treats its melody with both affection and suspicion. A single discordant guitar chord camps out in the middle, sounding out of place until the rest of the song warps it and makes it into a hook. The guitars swell and shrink into big rock shapes, while Satomi Matsuzaki quietly murmurs lyrics like "Milk man sleeps on the roof in the noon / Bananana stabbed to the arms / Weird man / Ooh la la."
So goes one of many moments of improbable genius. It's hard to do the math for Deerhoof's subtle craft, but Milk Man's sparse simplicity is deceiving. "Giga Dance" charts an organ riff somewhere between church hymn and haunted-house theme, with guitars echoing the melody from in front and behind. "Rainbow Silhouette Of The Milky Rain" spins out anthemic guitar chords that sound strangely, suggestively unresolved. "Dream Wanderer's Tune" plows through rock rumble and makes room for barrelhouse piano rolls.
Deerhoof sounds like a group of music-school whizzes playing at being a homey rock band, dividing the distance between their Steely Dan and Shonen Knife records. The songs on Milk Man are rigorously short and thin, but they're also elaborately long on nuances that fatten up with digestion.