Anything But ‘Bonita’
At first glance, Deerhoof is a rag-tag group of mismatched musicians. This band, however, capitalizes on their diversity in order to create a unique, equally-mismatched array of erratic sounds that can best be defined as experimental art punk. Their twelfth studio album, “La Isla Bonita,” shares its name with the Madonna hit from the 80s, but that is the extent of their parallels. The album is anything but a relaxing collection of island medleys, as the title may suggest.
The lead track, “Paradise Girls,” even seems to mock the idea of a laid-back island setting as it enigmatically and unsettlingly repeats “girls who are smart, girls who will test, girls who are smart.” The distant space age sound and nonsensical lyrics create an ambience of dissonant and unwelcome calm. However, the absence of coherent meaning in the lyrics does little to subtract from the quality of the music, which is an admirable trait in a time when lyrics seem to take precedence over musicianship.
Don’t be fooled by the title of the next track. “Doom” is an upbeat tune reminiscent of the surf genre, pioneered by artists like Dick Dale. The band’s punk roots finally emerge as the song transitions into an all-too-familiar three-chord punk rock progression. The erratic vocal stylings of front woman Satomi Matsuzaki is highlighted in “Last Fad” as she croons almost incomprehensibly over a light backing rock groove.
A warm acoustic guitar ushers in the next track “Tiny Bubbles,” which sounds as if it has been taken from a Johnny Cash album. The sad tone and exceptional musicianship of this track would impress the man in black himself.
“Exit Only” sets itself apart as the rawest concentration of pure punk angst amongst the entire album. The song follows the timeless punk formula to the letter: three chords, aggressive vocals and two-and-four on the drums. It’s classic, it’s exciting, it’s been done many times before but it still works.
Perpetuating the album’s pattern of metamorphosis, the next two songs lean in the direction of the dance genre. “Big House Waltz” and “God 2” feature heavy synthesizer mixes — a staple of the dance/electronic genre. While not particularly impressive, the songs show off the well-rounded skills of the musicians.
The album does not end as well as it began. The penultimate track “Black Pitch” is rather unimpressive and unmemorable. The closing track, conversely, got weird — no doubt exactly what the band intended. “Oh Bummer” features a crooning melody over rockish chords. It can best be described as a marriage between a Disney melody and an early Foster the People track.
“La Isla Bonita,” like Deerhoof’s previous albums, redefines itself with every track. A modern Proteus, the album finds itself changing shape with each progressive song. In true punk fashion, the band refuses to conform to any standard conventions of music. However, the album transcends the boundaries of simple punk. Deerhoof unapologetically exhibits the raw musicianship of its members. They dare to be different, to be…weird.
RECOMMENDED: The album will challenge you to disregard industry standards of “good music” and judge it objectively– Definitely worth a listen.