Published Oct 31, 2014There 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.
With La Isla Bonita, Deerhoof have returned to the raw materials of their idiosyncratic sound, throwing out most of the synths and occasional studio trickery and delivering many of the blistering tunes via demo recordings, to which they later added vocals. Consequently, there's an infectious energy to punk-y bangers like "Exit Only" and a seat-of-their pants adventurousness to the spindly riffs of "Last Fad" and instrumental "God 2." Drummer Greg Saunier still plays as if he's taunting the various complex time signatures, darting off into daredevil fills that somehow always land on the one, yet he shows considerable restraint on the effective ballad, "Mirror Monster." Add in a political bent to Matsuzaki's lighthearted vocal delivery (like the girl-power sloganeering of "Paradise Girls" or the surveillance-conscious vibe of "Black Pitch") and you've got an album that showcases Deerhoof's ability to wrangle disparate sounds, melodies, ideas and rhythms into impossibly catchy ditties. The best moments on La Isla Bonita evoke the inventiveness of Deerhoof's classic albums and their ability to explore seemingly limitless possibilities within their own (admittedly unique) framework. (Polyvinyl)