Deerhoof -- This San Francisco-spawned quartet has actually been around since the mid-'90s, but it's only been in the last few years that they've started getting some attention beyond the underground, thanks to touring stints with the likes of the Flaming Lips and Gnarls Barkley. I caught them last summer opening for the latter. Distinguishing characteristics: Avant-garde instrumental attack and singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki whimsical, child-like vocals.
Deerhunter -- Considerably newer than Deerhoof, but this Deer band has also been around the block a few times. Formed in Atlanta in 2001, this band was inspired by British post-punk icons the Fall and fellow Georgians Pylon, but reminds me a bit of Hoboken, New Jersey's the Feelies. You can also catch Deerhunter at this year's Lollapalooza. Distinguishing characteristics: Fuzzy guitars, lockstep rhythms and lanky frontman Brandon Cox, who is 6-foot-4 and suffers from Marfan syndrome, giving him even longer, lanky limps.
Deer Tick -- Another act that's been around since the mid-'90s, but only started garnering some serious buzz in recent years with the release of its 2007 album, War Elephant. DT is basically Providence, Rhode Island-born multi-instrumentalist John McCauley, whose influences include Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Ritchie Valens via Los Lobos. Word has it that McCauley has fielded a full-band lineup for his next effort, Born On Flag Day, which is due in June. Distinguishing characteristics: McCauley's full-throated, throwback vocals and knack for pulling out unexpected covers, including recent entries Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," Anthony Newley's "What Kind Of Fool Am I?," and Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years."
This Is Deer Country -- This Michigan-based dream-folk duo gained notice with its 2008 Daylily King EP. Now expanded to a quintet with the addition of a rhythm section and viola player, the band's strongest selling point and distinguishing characteristic remains Kate Pote's haunting vocals.
The Deer Tracks - Aurora, this Swedish electronic duo's 2008 album, is full of otherworldly pop. Distinguishing characteristics: Delicate electronic instrumentation and fragile vocals.
Vampire Deer -- I can't find much about this act, whose name I suspect may been have chosen to capitalize on web surfers looking for Vampire Weekend or one of the many Deer acts. Distinguishing characteristics: Laid-back, bluesy rock with some world music influences.
The Dears -- A whole different kind of dear, the Dears hail from Montreal, where they've been making melancholy pop, with an ever-changing lineup, since the mid-'90s. Distinguishing characteristics: Singer Murray Lightburn's deep, charismatic vocals and songwriting smarts.
Now that you've learned all about the various Deer/Dear bands, let me know which ones you think are worth hunting down.