The Runners Four
(5 Rue Christine)
Deerhoof press falls into two camps: "arty experimentalists" or "child's play." It's hard to side with either one. Sure, you'll find them in The Wire, but the San Francisco group is still a Fluffernutter sandwich on the way to Bergman for Baby class. I expected The Runners Four to be just another round of patty-cake punk. Turns out that I'm the one who ought to grow up. Deerhoof finally utilize the studio, taking six months to edit and add to their cartoonish oeuvre, creating something even more intimate and inviting than the full-on make-believe of last year's Milk Man. This time, bassist/vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki invites the listener to play along. The Runners Four thrives on small-scale grandness, like a snow globe castle; at an hour it's a double dose of Ritalin for a band with such a short attention span. The sweet, playful Melodica intro of "O'Malley, Former Underdog" is frosting on their cheesecake. Matsuzaki's bass and Greg Saunier's drums kick punk-funk into ham-handed Zeppelin guitar ("Wrong Time Capsule"), while a few coos cheat doo-wop on "After Me the Deluge." The folk ballad "Odyssey" provides a momentary respite before the band charges straight into their bread and peanut butter sound: riff, riff, no chorus. Thankfully, they've taken their time instead of writing and recording on the fly and relying on instant genius. A record-a-year streak (plus singles and EPs) suggests they may be low on willpower, though there are far more damaging vices than creativity. At least for now, Deerhoof have finger painted their masterpiece. KATE SILVER
Deerhoof play Chop Suey with Lavendar Diamond and We Are Wolves at 8 p.m. Wed., Oct. 26. $12 adv. All ages.
THE DEAD SCIENCE
If Old Time Relijun are the Northwest's best over-/undersexed Kraut-tribal-jazz-punk fusion trio (and they are), the Dead Science are our No. 1 over-/undersexed Latin-cabaret-jazz-punks. Singer/guitarist Sam Mickens is so tied up in knots that most of his words are either whispers or grunts. In his fragile, urgent way, Mickens pleads with a "Drrrty Magneto" (that's a dirty magnet to me and you), paints a picture of legs wrapped in delicious hosiery and tucked under a table ("Black Stockings"), and on the track "In the Hospital," even manages to make amputation seem amorous. Throughout, his fragile falsetto evokes both hypersexy Prince and the effeminate, intimate but sexless Jeff Buckley. Surrounding Mickens and illustrating his vocals are flourishes of chamber strings, resounding acoustic bass notes, stark ripples of ringing guitar, and intricate, mercurial rhythms, but at key intersections, the polyrhythmic pop theatrics stop and the trio engages in abstractions that could have easily been either meticulously orchestrated or completely improvised. "Blood Tuning" spirals out in a wash of cacophony and violence; "Lead to Gold in the Hour of Chaos" (also about blood) is spotted with brief, pleasingly nonlinear woodwind vignettes and creepy chanting. The disjointed free freak-outs and esoterica contrast nicely with the soundtracklike quality of the rest of the music, setting Frost Giant apart from the band's two previous records. Producer Ryan Hadlock (Black Heart Procession, Blonde Redhead, Afghan Whigs) probably deserves most of the credit for the satin swirl that unifies all the record's textures. LAURA CASSIDY
The World Is Your Balloon: The Decca Singles 1950–1951
From the '30s to the '50s, when the give-and-take between musical theater and actually existing popular music was at its healthiest, Ethel Merman was Broadway's queen, a no-mike-needed diva with an earthy, utterly American voice and a presence that helped Porter and Gershwin move the form beyond operetta models. The studio work collected on The World Is Your Balloon captures her near the end of her reign, after Annie Get Your Gun but before Gypsy. Seven duets with Ray Bolger are problematic, in that Oz's Scarecrow was by trade a hoofer, not a belter, and the material is decidedly backward-looking: "Oldies" is a string of rhymed vaudeville gags, while "The Lake Song" is "Injun" kitsch at the level of OutKast's Grammy powwow. Three pairings with Jimmy Durante are slier, as the two troupers ad-lib their way around Mitch Miller–esque prefab backings. The keepers are Merman's juicy renditions of songs she never sang onstage, especially "Make the Man Love Me" (from Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields' adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), a sweet but determined ballad perfect for her straightforward phrasing and tractor-beam pitch. These sides are no substitute for the Jazz Age sass of early performances like "Edie Was a Lady," but they might convince doubters that La Merm was once something more than the '70s camp figure of her Love Boat appearances and infamous Alec R. Constandinos–produced disco album. FRANKLIN BRUNO