INCOMING: The Deerhoof Hunter

When we first meet Bernard Jaffe, the Beatle-wigged “existential detective” played by Dustin Hoffman in David O. Russell’s 2004 impenetrable enigma of a black comedy I Heart Huckabees, he’s standing in front of a blackboard riddled with a Jackson Pollock-like splatter of chalk-drawn squares and rectangles. What, pray tell, do they add up to? Not much, as it turns out. Like life, they form an interconnected lattice of unrelated coincidences, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. But hey, they look really cool when Hoffman leans against the blackboard and the chalky chicken scratch is unwittingly transferred onto the back of his dark suit jacket. Deerhoof’s super-catchy new album La Isla Bonita provides a similar test of patience, understanding and your friendly neighborhood dry cleaner’s existential stain-lifting abilities. With its spiraling tangle of guitar arpeggios, Japanglish nursery rhymes and back-flipping drum gymnastics, not to mention all the hard-left U-turns from sweetness-and-light to abstract heaviosity, the ear’s initial reaction is to hear it as impenetrable code, an esoteric combination lock that would make a hardened safecracker cry uncle. What does it all mean? Well, it doesn’t really mean anything per se, and the sooner you figure that out, the sooner you’ll know what it means. Are you still with me, Grasshopper? It’s sort of like the sound of one hand clapping. For going on two decades, these artful dodgers have been getting their shit together somewhere in the outer limits of the noise-rock fringe, with conceptual song cycles about desperate milkmen pied-pipering children into pastures of cellophane flowers and marmalade skies, or cuddly pandas wandering through the valley of the shadow of death. The personnel have shifted over the course of the band’s extant 14 albums, but these days Deerhoof are anchored by drummer/singer Greg Saunier’s deep kick and light voice, the twin-guitar abstract expressionism of John Deiterich and Ed Rodriguez, and the naif anime vocals of bassist Satomi Matsuzaki, whose helium-pitched pipes have the same calming effect of a police horse at a riot. You say you want a revolution, so head on down to the demonstration to get your fair share of abuse. — JONATHAN VALANIA