On November 4th, Deerhoof return with La Isla Bonita, their 12th studio album and most recent release since 2012’s Breakup Song. In an interview, Greg Saunier noted that the album was recorded during “a weeklong sleepover arguing over whether to try and sound like Joan Jett or Janet Jackson”, appropriate pop culture references given the Madonna-referencing title. Bonita is, like most of Deerhoof’s other releases, a frantic song-cycle that mines nearly every pop/rock genre from the past 50 decades.
La Isla Bonita was recorded in the basement of guitarist Ed Rodriguez, spurred upon as much by the influence of the formerly mentioned elder pop stars as it was by a cover of Ramones classic “Pinhead”. Halfway through rehearsing the song, Rodriguez asked the other members, “why don’t we ever write a song like this?”, prompting Saunier to “quickly dash off a song on a scrap piece of paper, show it to the band, and record ‘Exit Only’” in one take. “Exit Only” is a lot more aggressive than Pinhead, but it does share some commonalities – Rodriguez bashing away at a simple four chord progression, singer Satomi transforming the “I don’t wanna be a pinhead” mantra into a trailing thought, repeating the words “I don’t let you” throughout the verses. In true Deerhoof fashion (and homage to Pinhead), “Exit” has some unexpected chord changes and added bars, and the band does a great job of mimicking the musically untrained punk superheros of the past.
The one-take, “DIY style” in which the album was recorded permeates Bonita, and reveals itself in different ways at different points on the record. On the album’s second track “Mirror Monster”, the band adopts the shoegaze movement as a sort of loose reference point, heavily delayed guitars and processed vocals. The juxtaposition, as always, is Saunier’s drumming – an off-kilter ‘funky drummer’ breakbeat seldom found in this style that gives it an intereseting counterpoint. Just as “Mirror Monster” picks up steam, it falls apart into a plucky reggae bassline, before riding out the rest of the track the way it entered.
It’s these moments of unexpectedness that make Deerhoof’s La Isla Bonita so inviting. By managing to be remain musically self-aware and freed from the constraints of extended studio visits, Deerhoof have continued their streak of not making a bad record.