Deerhoof: ‘La Isla Bonita’ Album Review

Courtesy of ucsdguardian.org
Courtesy of ucsdguardian.org

For some reason, band names that include the word ‘deer’ have always confused me. I can never quite keep Deerhunter, The Deer Hunter, Deer Tick or Deerhoof sorted out in the messy mental cupboard where I store band names. Bears are equally problematic with bands like Grizzly Bear, Minus the Bear, and Panda Bear adding to the list of animal-named indie groups. That being said, Deerhoof’s newest album, La Isla Bonita, gives good reason to remember this particular group of deer-affiliated pop weirdoes.

Based out of San Franscico since the mid-90s, Deerhoof certainly aren’t strangers to the scene and have established themselves with a distinctly erratic style. Fusing elements of punk rock, synth noise, pop, and seemingly whatever else they feel like into a genre-blending mix. Their now 13th studio album (La Isla Bonita) builds on their previous efforts while refining their sound into what could their most fun and accessible effort to date.

The opening track “Paradise Girls” sets the stage nicely for the weirdo beachscape that is to be explored on the shores of La Isla Bonita. The song builds itself up with increasingly catchy layers and repeating lyrics consisting mainly of: “Girls / who are smart” and “Girls / who play the bass guitar.” Satomi Matsuzaki’s small and eerie voice weaves its way into the layered mix nicely, making “Paradise Girls” an alluring little track to start things off.

Tiny Bubbles” is another song leaning heavily on the pop side of the spectrum to the point of feeling danceable and groovy. A stuttering verse riff adds some trademark ugliness to the composition before sinking back into the aqueous funk body. The two distinct parts play-off each other until the song degenerates into sputtering synth nothingness, eventually giving way to the harder hitting punk rock driven “Exit Only.” Here, yet again the lyrics have a way of boring deep into your consciousness and hanging out there for no useful or apparent reason:  “To many choice to order breakfast / I don’t let you / I don’t let you / I don’t let you.”

After a couple of listens to La Isla Bonita, don’t be surprised if you find yourself muttering this one to yourself while glancing over menu options the next time you eat out.

Big House Waltz” takes things in a different direction with bass heavy synth hits and nonsensical megaphone-barked lyrics. Sparse and noodly guitar riffs dance in and out of the lulls and reverb. Distorted bass weighs in heavy as the song swells and subsequently disintegrates into another sour and ambling end.

The closing tracks “Black Pitch” and “Oh Bummer” bring things back into the realm of accessibility that Deerhoof explore here on La Isla Bonita more than ever before. Both tracks have more moments of beauty than strangeness, and leave you feeling clean and wanting more Deerhoof. In the end, La Isla Bonita rides through waves of grungy electronic noise and discordant rhythms with contrasting pop crispness to remarkable effect. The result is a kind of elevated charm among the pretty pop sections and a punctuated ugliness among the degenerate and curdled territories. This time around it feels like Deerhoof tweaked their sound balance just slightly in favor of ‘pretty’, making La Isla Bonita one their catchiest and most concise efforts to date.

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