Thursday, February 16, 2006

earCandy: Mr. Bungle - California (1999) 5/5

First let me say that, and this is something that I've thought about a lot, I don't think it's right to just review new releases, because if you haven't heard it before then it's a new release to you, right? (no getting caught up in the marketing craze for us, no way! ;-) ) To that end, I now submit for review the last release by Mr. Bungle, 1999's California.

Mr. Bungle is a bit like crossing Ween with John Zorn (who produced the band's 1991 self-titled debut album). They delight in genre-crossing, like Ween, but they tend to do it several times in the same song (e.g. the second tune on the album, None of Them Knew They Were Robots, is at its heart a hardcore swing song, complete with full horn section, but with some death metal mixed in to good effect)! I'd love to watch their live show to see if the band can pull off these aural gymnastics in real time, because the recordings are totally seamless in this respect.

When I first got this album, it was my favorite CD for a long time. It had everything I love: great musicianship, complex tunes, and the requisite level of strangeness (and then some). For example, I don't know if it's the opening seaside strains from Sweet Charity, the album's first tune, but I really think there's an element of the Beach Boys in all this - the album has some great harmonies and is generally more melodic than Mr. Bungle's earlier fare. And even though almost everything breaks into some manicness at some point, there are a couple of great down tempo songs here too (like Retrovertigo and Pink Cigarette). I couldn't make it through this review without mentioning one of my favourite songs on the album, Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy, which sounds an awful lot like what I'd imagine from the Residents if they were a acid-drenched techno-funk band :-) . The only weakness overall is that the superlative lead singer Mike Patton's vocals (probably best known from the band Faith No More) are unfortunately buried in the mix in places - not something you want when your compositions are as densely packed as Bungle's.

Mr. Bungle probably aims to be relatively inaccessible - their first album and, to a lesser degree, 1995's Disco Volante are totally impossible to listen through in mixed company - but California is a close as they've gotten to an album that most people can listen to end-to-end without reaching for the fast forward button. So keep in mind that, although I think this is a 5/5 album, that rating probably only applies for more adventurous listeners. ;-)
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2/16/2006 04:56:00 p.m.  


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