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Time Doesn’t Really Survive – Deerhoof’s “La Isla Bonita”

La Isla Bonita

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Killing time even as they mark it, Deerhoof returns with a record so strong it drives our writer to the edges of journalistic sanity.

It’s all a matter of perspective, really. 1994 can seem like forever ago – a young, dashing, pre-Monica Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich actually kind of mattered to some people, hardly anyone had the internet or a PC – or it can seem like those twenty years have blinked by – listening to Th’ Faith Healers, seeing Oasis at the tiny punk club Satyricon in Portland, not understanding how Throwing Copper could sell twelve copies let alone six quintillion – all of which I swear was just a few years ago. In the case of Deerhoof, it’s somehow both. Hard to remember a time this sweet band of noise pop degenerates (Satomi Matsuzaki on bass, founding member Greg Saunier on drums, John Dietrich and Ed Rodriguez on guitar) hasn’t been with us, impossible to believe they’re celebrating their twentieth year as a band. But, believed or not, La Isla Bonita indeed marks the beginning of the band’s third decade, and marks it decisively with a giant jamming stamp of their patented swirling kaleidoscopic mania. Doesn’t matter where you choose to step inside here, you’ll get giddily knocked off your feet each time. So fine, it being random then, let’s just spin the wheel of splendid cacophony and see where we land.

(spinnnnnnnn…) Track number 6!

Basement thrash because why not, “Exit Only” is Deerhoof in their flying hair banging head setting and is certainly the only thrash-like song that’s ever lamented there being “too many choices to order breakfast” and I’m sorry but how immediately lovable is that?

(spinnnnnnn…) Track number 2!

Called “Mirror Monster,” it’s a creepy crawly sparkly thing stretched to creeping bent pace and sounding in its own perverted way like Arcade Fire might if one morning they woke up to discover imagination had replaced ambition in their band psyche, the jeweled shimmer of John Deidrich and Ed Rodriguez’s guitar treatment something akin to filmed moonlight as seen through a canopy of ghostly limbs. La Isla Bonita‘s most beautiful track? A good bet.

(spinnnnnn…) Track number 1!

A slight oddity, if you’re someone like me with a highly sensitized post-punk ear, as album opener “Paradise Girls” channels the Slits/Raincoats choppy brilliant dubbed-out rock template with shameless accuracy and rapier acumen, throwing in along the way a hint of #garageprog guitar that suggests Annie Clark getting lost on her way to her first teenage rehearsal. In short, a hit.


(spinnnnnn…) Track number 5!

Ahh yes, number five. The spaghetti-westerned “Tiny Bubbles” with Don Ho (if he’s here at all) capering about on a spavined swayback through a frightening new non-Hawaiian landscape that includes a prickly underbrush of mangled time changes from which emanates the herniated noises of monstrous crickets the size of oil drums while the wind cries Satomi, the bassist’s vocals alternating between straight pop bop delivery and a djin on a high southwestern desert spelling enchantment for all that hear it.

Interrupting our surreal Wheel of Fortune for a moment, are we seeing a pattern here? Well, yes and no because if so it’s a pattern without a pattern unless you call unstinting musical brinksmanship a pattern which is perhaps (although no ‘perhaps’ about it) precisely the pattern of behavior this band has exhibited since their initial explorations, a hellbentness that hasn’t diminished through two decades of inter-band cosmic detours and not infrequent collaborations including ones with Wadada Leo Smith and the mashed-up trio of Questlove, Reggie Watts, and Sasha Grey, among many others. Put bluntly, Deerhoof is risk averse, which is the key to understanding them, appreciating them, and ultimately becoming, well, a bit addicted to them. They’ll make you dizzy, they’ll thump you over the head, they’ll lead your heart astray in the craftiest way, all worthy consequences we’re sure you’ll agree as we reach again for a few more spins of that mesmerizing wheel.

(spinnnnnn…) Track number 7!

As much a waltz as any avant-driven demolition derby could be, “Big House Waltz” is, to the extent one can use this qualifier with this band, ‘classic’ Deerhoof, cogent in its off-handed fierceness, embellished by smooth jarring changes that make as much sense as the phrase ‘smooth jarring changes’ does, which is to say all the sense there is in this crazy world. One marvels at not just the bright slashes of Dietrich’s guitar but as well the deep bass soundings coming from Ms Matsuzuki. Satomi’s bass often gives the impression of thinking its way through your basic ‘hoof piece by means of artful strategy and darting peek-a-boo grace and here it’s especially integral, winding ’round and through Saunier’s explosively contained drum binge, itself a primal marker in this beast’s multi-linear DNA.

(spinnnnnn…) Track number 3!

Damned fun for a song called “Doom,” this is one of those tracks the driving complexity and playful exuberance of which combine in such standard (read: gobsmacking) Deerhoofian tossed-off panache as to ensure this album’s end-of-year Top 10 status on the basis of these three-plus minutes alone.

One final spin among the final three numbers and we arrive at the rolling groove cart of “Black Pitch,” come to bring you tea and psychedelic biscuits, the kind of track that invites you to put your feet up, take your head off and wriggle down inside its light-handed rhythm while the, um, pitch dark message – “We gonna want you, twenty-four seven” –  roils sweetly overhead. The arrangement here, its bifurcated nature, how the startling gets suavely undercut by a sonically palliative element that we’ll call a ‘pleasantly agitated drone,’ might well offer itself as the Deerhoof archetype, celebratory but difficult, the two words interchangeable.

Somehow – and I’m not exactly sure how this works – this spiky dreamstate that listening to Deerhoof induces helps explain the conundrum mentioned up top, the total certainty and utter unlikelihood that the band is marking its 20th year of existence. Don’t know what it’s like from inside the ranks, of course, but as a listener and fan, an adherent to the Deerhoof magic, it’s really rather difficult to keep track of time while in a state of suspended animation, a kind of avid, ongoing, pinballing trance to which you willingly submit, anesthetized  by their flamboyant, inimitable aesthetic. Twenty years? Twenty days? Who cares. La Isla Bonita is another seam-bursting exhibition from a band in the bristling throes of their own unique dynamism, as seasoned as they are still unhinged. In the clutches of a band like Deerhoof, time doesn’t really survive.