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Deerhoof 

Reveille (5 Rue Christine/Kill Rock Stars)

Wednesday, Jul 17 2002
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Though Deerhoof's latest release is bereft of brass, the aptly titled Reveille evokes the kind of emotion induced by a bugle call at sunrise: You may appreciate the sentiment, but the jolting nature of the noise leaves you feeling edgy. At times, listening to the San Francisco band's fourth album -- which comes out hot on the heels of February's release, Halfbird -- is like laboring through a short story that shirks all rules of grammar, with songs that are occasionally entertaining, often off-putting, and sometimes downright intolerable.

The group delivers its entertaining moments early on. "Punch Buggy Valves" strikes a balance between off-kilter raucousness and intricate melodic textures, while "Top Tim Rubies" layers lilting vocals over an organ swirl, flouting traditional song structure without shocking the listener's system. One of the catchiest tunes on the album, "Holy Night Fever," succeeds by blending chanteuse Satomi Matsuzaki's childlike singing with the British Invasion-inspired guitar riffs of new member John Dieterich.

Unfortunately, when the band branches into more experimental territory, the result is often nerve-racking. One listen should be plenty for tracks such as "No One Fed Me So I Stayed," which abandons tunefulness in favor of an irritating sound collage that brings to mind a screeching toddler banging on pots and pans. The childhood motif also extends unsuccessfully to "Cooper," which boasts a melody not unlike something a 5-year-old would ad-lib, as Matsuzaki repeats the same sounds over and over amid a barrage of fuzzy guitars.

It's possible that someone could enjoy Reveille's more inviting tracks immediately and learn to love the difficult ones later. However, many of the accessible songs on Reveille reveal one of Deerhoof's major weaknesses: repetition. "The Last Trumpeter Swan" hints at an appealing dance beat, but the droning guitar quickly grows dull. And while some might consider the discernable melody of "Our Angel's Ululu" a selling point, that melody is driven into the ground by nearly every contributing instrument.

When compared with the complex improvisations and innovative time signatures of some experimental artists, Deerhoof's work sounds like a bunch of kids playing around with their first instruments. Frequently, the threesome's energetic stabs at untraditional rock lack the complexity required to succeed. Far from achieving an avant-garde fanfare, Deerhoof delivers a Reveille that too often falls flat.

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Nancy Einhart

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