Sound — 9
When Primus and The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger toured together in the summer of last year, it's quite possible that the last thing anyone expected was a melding of the off-kilter styles of bassist/vocalist Les Claypool and multi-instrumentalist Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But the two spent much of the time on tour working on the music that would eventually end up on this collaboration together, and the results are something to behold. Fuzz guitars, Mellotrons, groovy bass lines and epic sound collages abound on this record, and perfectly setting the psychedelic, drugged-out mood of the album is the title track, which plays like a hazy, Syd Barrett-esque waltz. Syd's spirit is especially conjured up with the echo-drenched slide guitar sounds. Next is the epic "Cricket and the Genie," split into two movements ("I: The Delirium" and "II: Oratorio Di Cricket," which I'm not sure fits the definition of "oratorio"). Telling the story of a boy on prescription drugs who finds a genie in his pill bottle, it's a song that really moves itself along with respect to both its musical and lyrical story, really sounding like a very cinematic tune. The ending of the second movement, with its repeated strain of "You oughtta try it, you really oughtta try it" is one of the most epic pieces of music I've heard in a while.
Those first two songs are what really set the mood for the rest of this album, from the creepy story of a "good old fine, upstanding" "Mr. Wright," who "sets up little cameras because he likes to watch her dance" set to a very groovy bass line and squealing synths, to the odd time signatures of "Boomerang Baby," the Celtic overtones of "Captain Lariat," or the folk-rock strains of "Ohmerica." This dynamic duo is super-effective at capturing the psychedelia of the '60s, considering that one is the son of a Beatle and the other has been at the forefront of "weird" music since the '90s. The pair are the only musicians on the album, with Les handling about half the vocals, all the bass, and some of the keyboards, while Sean plays guitars, drums, keyboards, and handles the rest of the vocal. They both have very fine performances on the album. Les Claypool sounds as fine as ever, even though he's only playing 4-string fretted basses on this album. Sean handles the drums, guitar, and keyboards quite ably, performing some fine solos and chord progressions. Both have voices that recall the likes of Sean's father and Syd Barrett, and split the vocal performances roughly equally.
The production sounds very reminiscent of the 1960s as well, with very vintage-sounding effects (pretty sure the first single "Bubbles Burst" closes with a Univibe-style phaser), and Mellotrons all over the place. The Mellotron is one of my all-time favourite instruments, and the band uses it to great effect on "Cricket and the Genie." The album is not overly drowning in reverb or psychedelic effects, preferring to let the music set the mood.
About my only criticism of this album's style comes down to the fact that they're not really doing too much here that bands like Tame Impala aren't already doing equally as well, which is weird considering the kind of pedigree associated with the musicians in this band. The comparisons, especially on the tracks sung by Lennon, between the two artists might automatically turn off anyone who is not a fan of Tame Impala on principle alone, and that would be completely understandable.
I could definitely imagine that this album will sound exquisite on a vinyl mix (rather than the digital mp3s I am reviewing), and I look forward to finding this album on vinyl.
Lyrics — 8
Much like the music on the album, this album seems to have a very cinematic-sounding theme to it, taking us to space through the power of prescription medication! Drugs are a common topic on this album, and they never seem to glorify their usage. In fact, "Oxycontin Girl" is mentioned by Les Claypool as being "not a particularly cheerful song." "Cricket and the Genie" tells a story of a kid who needs his prescription drugs as a companion, only to break down when the bottle is emptied. "Captain Lariat" needs a bit of nitrous to get him through his day. But drug abuse is not the only dark topic covered in this album, with a song like "Mr. Wright," one of the most uncomfortably off-kilter songs you'll hear this year. For some people, this track might actually be a bit of a difficult listen, and it did affect my overall score of the lyrics, but I'm thinking that discomfort might have been the intent of the lyricists on that track. Either way, it's paired with an eerily groovy beat, which is also uncomfortably catchy.
Sean and Les both sing quite well on the album, with Les utilizing his usual half-spoken vocal style, and Sean singing very similarily to his father. The mix of the two vocal qualities come together very well on this album, and it's amazing how well these two distinctly different voices mix together.
Overall Impression — 9
Even if neo-psychedelia is all the rage among certain circles of people, and it might be hard for this release to stand out against the likes of Tame Impala, there's a lot to love about this album, and while I definitely wouldn't call this an instant classic, this was one of the most surprisingly excellent records of the year. Definitely not an album I was expecting to hear, but it's worth a listen if you're into psychedelic, near-progressive '60s rock.
All around, this is an album that's strangely both fun and dark, and just strange from cover to cover. This is an album I'll be listening to again and again, and while I wouldn't directly compare it to any of Les' work with Primus, fans of Sean Lennon's work in bands like The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger will be familiar with the stylistic conventions here and be right at home.
This is a very surprising, highly recommended album.