Always avant-garde and a little cheeky, San Francisco’s Deerhoof have made their most accessible record yet. La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl) files down their quirks without rendering them dull. The spastic drums of Greg Saunier and the wormy riffs of guitarists John Dietrich and Ed Rodriguez are ever present— but they veer off the track less often than past offerings.
Vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki still plays up her dolly-cute delivery on Deerhoof’s 12th album. The dawning of the record, “Paradise Girls,” celebrates women behind the bass (Matsuzaki included). And she morphs her fey voice into a mature coo in the restless “Black Pitch,” over Saunier’s undulating rhythms and the twin guitars’ jangle.
Nothing on La Isla Bonita (or earlier works) is weird for weirdness’ sake. Deerhoof don’t know how to be anything but exploratory. If a melody or stanza is sounding too standard, it zigzags into beautiful chaos. For example, “Tiny Bubbles” starts as a gothic surf-jazz composition but then takes a detour into Dirty Projectors territory. The band always sounds like they’re on the brink of losing the plot, but there’s a method to the madness.
It’s the dissonant chords and charming vocal stylings that keep Deerhoof in their own category. “Last Fad” is the Deerhoof-iest tune on the album, characterized by Matsuzaki’s nonsense lyrics (“Baseball is canceled; ET is running late,” she chimes) and the whining, clashing runs of Rodriguez and Dietrich.
It’s a triumph that a group so off their rocker could continue to produce such spellbinding and consistent music over two decades. But Deerhoof accomplish that, and La Isla Bonita stays afloat amid their overall catalog.