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San Francisco’s magical, mysterious Deerhoof made something of a surprise breakthrough with last year’s Reveille. Structurally ambitious but a little less coherent than the avant-noise-pop quartet’s previous LPs, Reveille nonetheless won a wider audience for the band’s quirky charms. It’s tantalizing to think that the band’s polished follow-up, Apple O’, will enchant even more listeners. Deerhoof’s gambit is to bring advanced studies in music composition (both guitarist John Dieterich and drummer Greg Saunier were schooled in the music program of Oakland’s Mills College) down from the garret and into the garage. The group takes a page from the late-period Polvo playbook, and like recent tourmate Lightning Bolt, it can sometimes press things to the point of pixelated abstraction. None of this, however, can quite prepare one for the voice of bassist-vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, whose utterly naive, little-girl falsetto betrays her nonmusician background—and then some. Album-opener “Dummy Discards a Heart” finds her wailing ripped-from-the-bridge-column lyrics against guitarists Dieterich and Chris Cohen’s twinned riffs and Saunier’s thundering drum work: “Play to the Queen of Heart/Play King of Club…/Sing to the East/Sing to the West!” As elsewhere, the band’s hard-rock alchemy transmutes would-be inanities into dada gold. Nothing Matsuzaki sings on “Heart Failure” (“Teen pop straight to the top”), “Flower” (“Flower, flower, flow-ooo-ow-a”), or “Panda Panda Panda” (you guessed it) will take home any poetry prizes, but as pure sounds matched to the ‘Hoof’s tight arrangements, they’re unbeatable. That said, the words to mini-epic album centerpiece “Apple Bomb” are truly affecting: The Garden of Eden, cloning, the rarest tree on Earth, and perhaps the other A-bomb all figure in a heartfelt elegy to nature, quiet until the band drops heavy ordnance three minutes in. Conversely, “Adam+Eve Connection,”‘s stormy whirl of sound builds itself to a collapse and whooshes down your earhole, transporting you to a quiet rock garden for a samisen serenade and the hushed exhortation to contemplate “our deep real atom eve connection.” Sure, it’s all as cartoonish as it’s visionary, but in the very best of ways, like a Hayao Miyazaki production with a Raymond Scott rock score. That’s because Deerhoof’s own mad genius is for finding just the right balance between cacophonous atmospherics and kooky pop hooks. Indeed, this dynamic works so well within and across songs here that it’s tempting to think of Apple O’ as a sort of art-punk suite. Heed Reveille’s call: Bite the Apple. —Todd Hitchcock