After seven albums' worth of gleeful pandemonium, Deerhoof calm things down a bit with The Runners Four, a collection of songs that are even more restrained than Milk Man and the Green Cosmos EP. Perhaps trying for the unpredictability of their earlier work got too, well, predictable for the band. Even though the manic intensity that characterized work like Reveille is missed a little here, The Runners Four is still a far cry from typical indie rock; in fact, it sounds more like one of Deerhoof's older albums played at half-speed than anything else. Most importantly, the joyful creativity that radiates from all of the band's other work is here in spades, too: it's hard not to smile at "Twin Killers"' zigzagging riffs or "Scream Team"'s giddy, girl-boy vocals. At the beginning of the album, there's more of an emphasis on pretty, relatively gentle songs like "Chatterboxes," "Odyssey," and "Vivid Cheek Love Song," although even these tracks have enough shifts in tempo and dynamics to prove that they're the work of Deerhoof. However, as The Runners Four unfolds, it gets progressively louder and more overtly playful, with "Spirit Ditties of No Tone," "Lightning Rod, Run," and "O'Malley, Former Underdog" providing some of the album's most irresistible moments. By the time "You're Our Two" and "Rrrrrrright" close out the album, Deerhoof are back to the sugar-buzzing rock of their early days. In between these extremes are the pretty pop of "Running Thoughts" and noisy, experimental cuts such as "Midnight Bicycle Mystery" and "Bone-Dry," which recalls the more elliptical moments of Deerhoof offshoot Curtains. While it's not as clearly conceptual as Milk Man was, The Runners Four also seems to tell an extended, if fractured, story involving murderous twin beauties, spies, pirates, and smugglers. There's a lot to look and listen for in The Runners Four; it's Deerhoof's longest, most eclectic work yet, and more proof that the band can expand its sound without losing what makes it special.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares