I tried hard to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, really, I did. And some of those first three pages made an iota of sense. I nearly made it through two episodes of that Scandinavian crime drama The Killing that everyone was going on about, before dozing off. When John Peel played a track by Japanese noise assassins Melt Banana I thought it was the most alien piece of ear-bleeding, avant-sonic genius that I had ever heard. It took months to track down an import copy of their album Teeny Shiny, and when I did, I played most of side one before thinking ‘why the hell am I listening to this utter racket?’ and retiring it to the back of the shelf.
There’s a scene in sitcom Peep Show that sums it up even better. To their absolute horror Mark and Jez end up at the theatre watching a Renaissance play. “I’ve got Heat on DVD at home,” whispers Jez through pained, gritted teeth. “We could be watching Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino… when do we get to leave?” Thus the issue with Deerhoof. Ground breaking trend setters of the US underground scene for over twenty years and named checked and admired by Thurston Moore, Graham Coxon, Henry Rollins, Beck and David Bowie, but my gawd trying to get through any of their 13-odd albums is hard work.
La Isla Bonita promises to be a more accessible, listenable turn for the San Francisco band – but everything is comparative. Their gonzo, splatter gun collision of metallic riffs, funky bass lines and electro belches and bleeps, is as ever met with the cutesy, innocence of Japanese vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki. Opener ‘Paradise Girls’ sets a tone somewhere between The Slits, The Rapture and Talking Heads. It’s an infectious, hypnotic, gleeful beginning that cunningly lures you through the looking glass into their weird, eccentric world.
A long way from their early art-rock roots, ‘Mirror Monster’ is a breathy, dreamy take on the tranquil French electro of Air. ‘Tiny Bubbles’ turns a gorgeous twanging Spaghetti Western lick into a shrill, clattering breakdown, whilst ‘Exit Only’ livens things up with raging blasts of grizzly guitars and rabid, thrashing West Coast punk. With its synth dirges, crazed sloganeering, rumbling rhythms and pace-shifting dynamics, ‘Big House Waltz’ provides the most brilliantly bonkers ‘WTF’ moments, but despite seemingly trying to cram the entire contents of their iTunes library into three-minute pop songs, an unlikely sparseness and clarity comes through on ‘Doom’ and ‘Black Pitch’.
The charming thing here is the unassuming nature of it all. The high-brow beard stroking and critical acclaim that comes with the band is nothing to do with them. They’re not being wilfully obtuse, mad professors on a jazz odyssey; they’re just goofing around and pleasing themselves. There’s much to admire, and the influence they’ve had on acts such as Battles, Flaming Lips, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and even Radiohead is more than noteworthy, but it’s all an in-joke that is really hard to get. I’m sorry Deerhoof, it’s me, it’s not you. We can still be friends though.