Ever since the release of their first album in 1997, Deerhoof has steadily won over more and more anxiously devoted fans and perplexed everyone else in the meantime. With the release of their seventh album, titled “The Runners Four,” the infamously confounding art-rockers from Oakland, Calif. have managed to show significant growth while maintaining their same acute artistic sense. It’s impossible for one to prescribe a recipe for such a distinctive sound, though I think it would most likely require placing “The Karate Kid,” an empty bottle of Ritalin, a couple Picassos, and a pinch of rock into a blender set to pure. Ultimately Deerhoof’s music – often labeled “experimental pop” – is a study in juxtaposition. Their albums, songs, and even their personnel seem to be assembled with the goal of diversity and originality trumping any aim at congruency. Yet somewhere amidst the staggering rhythmic structures, anxious guitar tweaking, and curiously inviting melodies, the band has managed to recognize the distinctive traits in their music that have arisen from years of experimentation. “The Runners Four” contains a great deal of branching out. However, they have grown in such a way that has allowed the different facets of their unique sound to blossom in new directions. The duets between the delicate voice of singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki and the nervous scratches of guitarist John Dieterich appear frequently on the new album, yet more boldly stated than ever before. Their occasional disregard for rhythm and fluidity are also clarified in the recording, making them seem more dynamically significant as opposed to acting simply as points of departure. The 20 tracks on the album each explore different textures and moods more freely and poignantly than on previous records. These things are probably due, at least in part, to the fact that “The Runners Four” was recorded entirely independently in the band’s practice space in Oakland. With the release of this album, Deerhoof has proven that creativity comes from knowing oneself. As sappy as it sounds, “The Runners Four” could not have been recorded without the explicit understanding – regarding their talents and artistic aims – that have gradually crystallized over the past decade. From a musicians perspective, the confidence and clarity with which the songs are delivered cause me to think that, to bands like Deerhoof, the struggle for originality and creativity is no more a struggle than trying to put on their shoes. It’s all a music fan or a musician can do but to thank their lucky stars that bands like Deerhoof simply exist.