Release Date: Nov 4, 2014
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Deerhoof are one of those peculiar bands who have never needed to worry about remaining relevant as they never really were in the first place. With a career spanning 20 years and spawning 12 albums, they’ve continued to make music that’s impervious to outside trends and wholeheartedly committed to pursuing whatever wonderfully fickle creative impulses grip them at that particular time. Deerhoof have always made the kind of albums that only Deerhoof can, and thankfully La Isla Bonita is no different, though a couple of decades in and it’s hardly surprising that they are digging up a certain amount of old ground.
Unlucky for some, but not for Deerhoof. The quartet’s 13th LP is a product of the band’s 20 year history together, but if you didn’t know it, you would never guess that this wasn’t a sparkling debut written by a bunch of 20-somethings with an abundance of live-wire energy. Interesting that an album which was kickstarted by the band’s impromptu decision to record a song that sounded like their own take on the Ramone’s “Pinhead” ended up being named after Madonna’s kitschy classic “La Isla Bonita” - but that’s Deerhoof (nothing will be stranger than Milk Man, their 2004 concept album based around a pied piper figure enchanting children into his “dreamland”.
As so-called “indie rock” has moved closer to the mainstream, commercial center of the music business over the past few decades, a stubborn and self-assured cohort of bands has remained stalwart in its commitment to avant-garde sounds that refuse to pander to whatever conventions happen to be in vogue at the moment. Like Xiu Xiu and Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof has managed to enjoy a long career while maintaining the integrity of the boundary-pushing style that has defined its music all along. On La Isla Bonita, Deerhoof’s 12th album, the band doesn’t seem to be reaching out to new listeners so much as assuring longtime fans that they still know how to thrown down and get weird.
When Deerhoof make a new album, they’re not continuing a sequence; they’re having a conversation. Whether coordinating the whole thing over email or swapping band roles as an experiment, the Bay Area band have been going twenty years without a lull in inventiveness. Their twelfth album, ‘La Isla Bonita’ is no exception, and was made during a week long sleepover in guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s basement; during which the host claims they spent most time “arguing over whether to try and sound like Joan Jett or Janet Jackson”.
Deerhoof celebrated their 20th anniversary with the release of La Isla Bonita, another fine example of how the band changes course on almost every album. Like Deerhoof vs. Evil and Breakup Song before it, Bonita is another concentrated burst of whimsy. It's a format that suits Deerhoof, as well as this album's inspiration, the Ramones.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. "Baseball is cancelled, it is running late" sings Satomi Matsuzaki on 'Last Fad', one of the ten tracks on La Isla Bonita.. We never find out why baseball was cancelled. Or if it really was just running late..
Do Deerhoof ever get bored? In a revolving gallery of evaporative avant-pop weirdos, they churn out album after distinctive album without ever breaching self-parody. As an aesthetic conceit, "weird" only works as long as it's novel—if you're going to wallow in it for two decades, you'd better be prepared to regenerate yourself constantly. But Deerhoof make music like a group of friends who never get sick of each other's jokes.
The world doesn't realize how much it needs Deerhoof until a new Deerhoof album appears. Their thirteenth LP is full of the quirks and original sparks that have helped to define the band and have set apart the rest of their catalog from pretty much anything else released at the time, all of which is easiest to appreciate at the moment it seems obvious that nearly any other music sounds a bit dismal if following a Deerhoof record. .
You walk into the Deerhoof juicebar and you’re perturbed by the ingredients of each concoction. How could that work? I’m not sure I want to drink a boysenberry-vanilla and seaweed-shot…No way. But, then you gulp it down and you feel amazing, invigorated, dizzy even.
Over the course of 12 albums and 20 years, Deerhoof have never been a band to stand still or repeat. Constantly pushing at the edges of alt-rock, they’re no strangers to clashing genres and ignoring conventions. In fact, wilful juxtaposition of opposing musical forms is quite often where they operate at their best. La Isla Bonita was originally intended to be Deerhoof’s take on over-produced pop, with Madonna and Janet Jackson being the primary influences.
After two decades of experiments across their expansive art/pop/punk spectrum, it’s still impossible to predict what Deerhoof will do next. ‘La Isla Bonita’ – with the exception of ‘Mirror Monster’, which glides from eerie and downbeat to emotionally devastating – is all about showcasing their daft array of riffs. There are big, bloated punk ones (‘Exit Only’), awkward funky ones (‘Paradise Girls’), erratic ones (‘Big House Waltz’) and nonsensical ones (‘Black Pitch’).
There is no other band that sounds like Deerhoof, and the San Francisco-based quartet has capitalized on that fact by maintaining a laser focus on their playful yet prodigious songcraft. For the past 20 years, they've essentially been working with the same well-defined aesthetic — disjointed grooves, syncopated guitar melodies and the high-register brittleness of singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki's voice — building it up and breaking it down to various effects. But after a brilliant run of albums during the last decade — from their 2003 breakthrough Apple O' to the epic-length The Runners Four (2005) to the juiced-up production of Friend Opportunity (2007) and the stripped-down refinement of 2008's Offend Maggie — the sonic directions taken on their most recent efforts have been a bit underwhelming.
Deerhoof have been making outrageously inventive ADD noise rock since the Nineties – songs that zip between musical styles, melodic ideas and time signatures while Japanese bassist Satomi Matsuzaki sings in a giddy whirl. Naming their 13th album after a Madonna hit single is pretty funny, since radio pop is about the only thing they've never tried. But their frenetic music does cool out and breathe a little here, from the gleeful Ramones trounce of "Exit Only" to the kinky kraut-rock funkiness of "Paradise Girls." What emerges is a basement-punk groove band where you're never quite sure where the groove will take you.
For their 13th album, San Francisco’s Deerhoof say they started by trying to record a song like the Ramones’ Pinhead. Such ambition paints the colours of the rest of La Isla Bonita, but the result never completely pastes over Deerhoof’s usual quirks. Despite the quartet’s claim that they’ve made a “groove record”, the dominance of Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocal (and often hilarious lyric sheet) still registers high in the mix, even if Greg Saunier’s drums are trying to mimic Can or The Stone Roses.
Deerhoof celebrate their 20th anniversary by revisiting their roots as a noise project slumming it in San Francisco's mid-90s punk scene. After spending 10 days in guitarist Ed Rodriguez's basement working on what they thought were demos, they realized on the last day that they had a full-fledged album on their hands. Recorded live, La Isla Bonita is harsh and dissonant, with as many dicey guitar spasms and eerily saccharine-sweet vocals courtesy of bassist Satomi Matsuzaki and as much perfectly off-kilter drumming as heard on their early tunes.
Over their 20-year career, Deerhoof have warped and molded dozens of genre touchstones around their manic, mischievous noise pop and punk tendencies. Whether adding horn sections, focusing on synths, or pushing epic themes, the resulting product always felt familiar, their neon-fingerpainted prints all over the music. Though their new album won’t be mistaken for the work of another band, La Isla Bonita sounds as if it slipped just a bit out of their grasp, those fingerprints sometimes half-formed and smudged.
Sorry Bono, but if I can just be honest here for a second: Ramones nostalgia makes me wanna sniff some glue, straight up. Mostly because, in my opinion, I don’t think that they wrote very “miraculous” songs, but also, on a base rhetorical-political (and thus necessarily personal) level, I can’t get over how much they are often historically heralded as champions of both rebellion and stagnancy, retroactively lauded as brilliant innovators amongst punk fans and as economical conservationists amongst those a bit more suspicious of their staying power. This pervasive defensiveness for why Ramones should remain relevant not only in our collective memory, but also in our history books has always been a turn-off for me since I found myself underwhelmed by “Blitzkreig Bop” as a 13 year old sifting for a means of incineration, not sedation.
Deerhoof’s La Isla Bonita is all about repetition, mantras, lacerating chords, and joyful, cacophonous catharsis. Singer-bassist Satomi Matsuzaki spits out her lyrics as if they’re divine mantras, finding profundity in the mundane, while guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez strike an uncanny balance between harmony and discordance. The group’s glue is Greg Saunier’s minimalist approach to the drums; he often relies on nothing but a bass tom, ratty cymbals, and a strategically deployed snare.
Two decades of Deerhoof and the band is recording in a basement. La Isla Bonita, their twelfth studio album and third on Polyvinyl, was recorded in guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s basement. Interestingly enough, the album was co-produced by music writer-turned-label-owner Nick Sylvester, marking only the second time that Deerhoof has enlisted a producer (the job is typically filled by Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, who is a much sought-after producer himself).