Deerhoof Offers Avant Garde Music-Art in “La Isla Bonita”

25 Nov

Deerhoof. Even the band’s name makes a person stop and say, “That’s a little weird.”

And that pretty much sums up Deerhoof’s first 20 years. Generous helpings of weirdness. Like that dish you’re not so sure about every year at Thanksgiving.

The band has recorded 13 albums, the most recent being La Isla Bonita, released earlier this month. And their most consistent quality is innovative unpredictability.

Technically speaking, Deerhoof plays punk — with elements of garage, grunge and noise mixed in. The band got its start in San Francisco, naturally. But now its members — including Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich, Ed Rodriguez, and co-founder, Greg Saunier — have scattered to a variety of cities around the globe.

Deerhoof’s music is an acquired taste. Guitar riffs are often angular attacks, like St. Vincent at her most aggressive moments. Drumming careens off-kilter. Melodies are erratic…or non-existent. It’s music as art, which like an abstract painting challenges listeners to appreciate its musicianship even if it’s impossible to tap your toe or hum the chorus.

That said, La Isla Bonita is deserving of at least a nod in an indie music blog. The online music magazine, “Pitchfork,” loved the album — giving it a 7.6 rating. Reviewer Sasha Geffen wrote…

                                                                                                                                              

“A big part of Deerhoof’s power comes from their inscrutability. They’ve got the rare talent of affecting emotion without supplying a direct line into any kind of inner narrative, of inspiring release in the abstract.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

On the first single from La Isla Bonita, “Paradise Girls,” lead singer Matsuzaki sings about “Girls/Who are smart…” and “Girls/Who play the bass guitar…” The lyrics are unexpected — affirming in their support of strong, independent women when perhaps the image created by the song title was of the opposite — girls in skimpy two-piece suits on a tropical island.

A printout of the lyrics will help you understand them. (On first listen, you may think Matsuzaki keeps singing “Cows,” not “Girls!”) Her bass guitar runs burst out together with Dieterich’s edgy guitar riffs and Saunier’s repetitive rhythms (including snapping snare and cowbell!)

Near the song’s end, it sounds like the band could have been squeezing a cat that was yowling in protest. But apparently, no animals were hurt in the making of La Isla Bonita.

In any case, while the song may be a bit beyond the range of what I would typically play on the Time Traveler program, listen for it this Friday morning between 9:00 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. on KZSU.

Then, stay tuned right after my show for the Stanford football pre-game and live broadcast of Stanford vs. UCLA from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, in the final regular season game for both schools.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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