With their latest album, La Isla Bonita, the San Francisco-based Deerhoof has created a 10-track exploration of organized chaos. The collection came about from the group’s four members essentially locking themselves in guitarist Ed Rodriguez’s basement for what they referred to in the album’s press release as “a weeklong sleepover arguing whether to try and sound like Joan Jett or Janet Jackson.” The result is a magnificent 31-minute journey, blending elements of garage punk, surf rock, and noise pop.
Every song on the album was approached with DIY sensibilities and resulted from what was essentially a series of very successful jam sessions. As such, the greatest joys of the album come from the surprises they constantly cobble into their complex sound. Tempos change, the moods of songs switch from joyful to angry, and the levels of distortion completely transforms, giving each track a sense of genuine exploration.
In “Doom,” for example, after a period dominated by bass and drums, the guitar finally enters the scene in a series of short, shrill chirps so distorted that they almost sound like a steel drum, only to then give way to some more conventional, surf-rock guitar-shredding.
As on previous albums, the vocal work of Satomi Matsuzaki is one of the album’s highlights. Her singing doesn’t always use intelligible words, and even when it does, she uses phrases so esoteric and cryptic that it’s hard to discern any real meaning. Such is the case with “Last Fad,” on which she repeats, “Baseball is cancelled/ E.T. is running late/ New, From America/ I cover the wall with sad dollars/ Ta-da!” Her childishly high voice contrasts perfectly with the often harsh and disorienting guitar riffs.
It speaks a great deal to this diverse quality of sounds that the two best songs on the album evoke completely different ambiances. “Mirror Monster” begins with the faint rattling echo of a guitar, followed by a soft hypnotic drum beat hitting like rain on a tin roof, all while soft vocals drift in and out. This abruptly cuts to a sharp and intimately clear bass line accompanied by Matsuzaki’s eerie whispering, before all these elements all slowly return for the song’s serene conclusion.
“Exit Only,” on the other hand, takes on a more aggressive approach. It begins with a series of quick, discrete guitar riffs, like an engine trying to start, before launching into a deep two-guitar fury accompanied by the heavy pounding of drums. The rhythm steadily speeds up, only to reach a series of halts, accompanied by the odd phrase “You enter USA/Welcome to speech of freedom/Thank you for coming get up now!” The “now” is accompanied by a scream that morphs into the high-pitched shriek of a guitar.
All in all, La Isla Bonita is a near perfect example of blending rock and experimental traditions to create completely unpredictable and dynamic sound, and its aggressively creative sound cements it as one of the best albums of the fall.