MVP features artists and their favorite albums.
I grew up in a southern Baptist household, wherein all right action existed to uphold some deeper Christian purpose, and all wrong action stemmed from some vague temptation devised by a seemingly more present and involved Satan. I was too distracted by hoop dreams and Nintendo to give this much thought during the bulk of my childhood, but began to develop doubts after attending a mission trip to Santo Domingo in the summer before I started 9th grade. Essentially, a lot of similarly dopey kids and I made jokes and flirted with one another while we aimlessly shuffled around a construction site in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, as so-called ‘Mission Leaders’ encouraged us to recount any “God sightings” we’d had while devoting ourselves to a less fortunate community. As horny, uni-lingual t(w)eens primarily interested in each other, we hadn’t devoted ourselves to anyone, and would usually just vomit up some drivel about seeing God in the faces of grateful local children we didn’t know the names of. At around this point, I decided that Christianity (at least as presented to me) was at best pretty manipulative, and I no longer wanted to participate.
So, my well-intentioned parents decided that the best remedy for my religious disinterest was to drag me to church every Sunday, where I’d usually slip away and hang around the parking lot until about five minutes before Sunday school let out. This continued until I was old enough to have a car, where I instead would spend Sunday mornings driving in circles around my hometown. Coincidentally, I began to develop a mild interest in some of the more popular “indie” bands at the time like the Strokes and White Stripes. I wasn’t yet familiar with sites like MySpace or Pitchfork, so I’d discover new music through the ‘We Also Recommend’ section on the Amazon pages of albums I liked. I’d write down bands that had good user reviews and cover art, and would use my Sunday morning excursions to go to Best Buy or Barnes & Noble to try and find listed CD’s to listen to as I drove around to fake being at church.
I stumbled upon The Runners Four pretty early on in this period, and while I don’t remember my exact reaction upon first hearing it, I picture Kermit the Frog excitedly flailing around after introducing a celebrity segment on The Muppet Show. I was completely unfamiliar with Deerhoof, and fully baffled when Satomi Matsuazki’s high-pitched, sing-songy vocals came in over that driving chord progression on, “Chatterboxes.”
My reaction was some combination of, “What the fuck is this?” and, “I didn’t know you could do it that way!” Almost none of the album’s songs follow the typical verse-chorus structure, yet each one definitively goes somewhere. I think this, in and of itself, is what makes Deerhoof such a phenomenal band: they’re aesthetic alone (I see it as catchy, child-like melodies over a dissonant caricature of rock n’ roll guitar music) is unique enough to set them apart from ~99% of other bands. They don’t have to write such deep and expansive songs, but they do, and it’s great. “Spirit Ditties of No Tone,” could work just as well without that solo guitar melody that pops in to string the song’s sections together, and all of the little segments of, “Scream Team,” could be divided up into at least three separate songs. But, the guitar melody is included, and “Scream Team,” is a 2:40 single-song whirlwind. Considered against the fact that this album contains twenty songs with no real weak spots is utterly bonkers. Further still, the same could be said for nearly all of Deerhoof’s albums (especially, I think, during the Chris Cohen era); they devise a concept that is interesting enough on its own, and then develop the hell out of it to make it way better than it needs to be, and end up with something that exists in an entirely different universe.
Hearing The Runners Four was probably the first time I truly became aware of the concept of artistic license; Deerhoof seemed to be having fun doing whatever they wanted musically, and the end result captured something simultaneously dissonant, catchy, pretty, and goofy. From within the rigid, black-and-white context of a religious upbringing, this was my first exposure to an “other” way of doing things that didn’t necessarily equate to being a “wrong” way. As someone who lacks the typical cool guy swagger of Julian Casablancas or Jack White, this was also the first time making pop music seemed accessible to me. In the context of an angst-y teen ditching out of church, this album provided an explosive and jubilant outlet.
As I get older and more exposed to all the wonderful things happening in the music world, the experience of being floored by previously unheard albums becomes scarcer, and I begin to spend a little more time re-listening to the handful of albums that hit me the hardest as I first began to discover music. I catch more yet-unnoticed little gems while revisiting The Runners Four than with any other of these albums, and its songs will dominate my Top 25 Most Played tab in iTunes for as long as iTunes is a relevant and existing format. I like to think that practically any decent experience (music or otherwise) can be positively disorienting in a right-place-right-time scenario, so I’m always sort of on the lookout for whatever that next something is. Hearing The Runners Four just happened to be the first experience to prompt all of my Kermit-flailing.
Stream Shopping Spree’s Moon Music/Surf Music below: