Sound — 6
In 1996, James Iha said to Guitar World magazine, "The future is in electronic music. It really seems boring just to play rock music." Now it's almost twenty years later and that seems only partly true. James Iha, if you didn't already know, left The Smashing Pumpkins a long time ago and has really only played rock since SP's disbandment (A Perfect Circle, Tinted Windows, Auf Der Maur). So, he's not a great example of rock's evolution to electronica, but I would argue that Alt-J, Daft Punk, and Radiohead are better examples of that transition. The Smashing Pumpkins tried an electronic approach on "Adore" in 1998, Radiohead put out "Kid A" in 2000, and Perry Farrell took a stab at the techno-machines one year later on "Song Yet to Be Sung." Rock doesn't have to be fused with electronica to be relevant (Queens Of The Stone Age, Beck, Arctic Monkeys), but there has certainly been a strong mixture of the two genres in the past decade or so. Somewhere in all that, John Frusciante played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, then he left citing artistic differences, and pledged his talents to electronic music. Frusciante is no stranger to experimentation and sound manipulation beyond a guitar pedal. He's collaborated with various artists trying to make new sounds and explore his musical abilities as much as he can. I bought his last release "Enclosure" with high expectations and I tried a good bit to like it, but I really only found one or two songs that expressed something truly original ("Fanfare"). Preceding the release of "Enclosure," Frusciante had been talking about Aphex Twin and gave him his praises. "Enclosure" felt too forced; he was trying too hard to mash up his guitar playing, singing, and drum machines and make it all work. I got no beef with Frusciante, though; the guy is just being an artist as he sees fit. He's one of the greatest guitarists living today, not to mention, a great musician in general. But is he the greatest electronic DJ alive today? That could be up for debate.
Lyrics — 7
I'm familiar with the whole Red Hot Chili Peppers discography up to "Stadium Arcadium" and almost all of Aphex Twin's albums (although, I would say it's impossible to know Mr. Twin's entire discography given his numerous EPs, remixes, and aliases). I thought "Enclosure" was lifting a lot of techniques from Aphex Twin's 1996 album "Richard D. James Album" and the influences were easy to spot even mixed in with Frusciante's whines and insane guitar solos. For his newest release, though, under the alias Trickfinger, Frusciante is focusing more on a chilled-out vibe and eliminates the vocals and guitars completely. So, this record sounds less confused since it isn't just him putting guitar and breakbeat together all at once, as if they were that easily compatible. The aesthetic is flattened out more and he layers electronic noises and steady drum machine beats on top of each other. This is purely electronic music. The overall tone is methodical with a slow groove. Like I compared "Enclosure" to "Richard D. James Album," I would parallel Trickfinger with Aphex Twin's landmark album "Selected Ambient Works 85-92." The opener "After Below" is cool: throbbing sound effects and light drums make it entrancing and sometimes hypnotic. I think the third track "Rainover" is a good homage to Aphex Twin's "Heliosphan." "Sain" is quick and keenly nerve-wrecking as sirens and spastic rhythms twiddle about. "85h" immediately starts with an all-too-familiar loud thump that seems to be on every instrumental electronic album since the discotheques started. The beat builds and computerized sounds meld with the drum effects taken from a Sega Genesis game. "4:30" begins on a steady note and ends in a barrage of hisses and laser gun beeps (a little expected, nevertheless). It captures an ambient, jungle style in most of the songs.
Overall Impression — 6
In the past ten years, we've seen John Frusciante go from the greatest guitarist in the world to a mysterious producer/DJ aptly named Trickfinger. Before listening to Trickfinger, the only two solo albums I had of Frusciante's were "Enclosure" and "Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt," released exactly twenty years apart, 2014-1994, respectively. If you think the new electronic stuff off his latest albums are bizarre, I ask you to listen to "Niandra LaDes" at least once all the way through and then tell me what's weird (and then try "Smile From the Streets You Hold"). Fortunately enough this time, I don't think Frusciante is doing this album because he's on drugs. Where those first two post-Chili Peppers albums showed his struggles with heroin, fame and music, Trickfinger and his other new releases are genuine artistic endeavors seeking out musical possibilities, no matter what the result. Frusciante is not afraid to do whatever he wants. Trickfinger is good, it's chill, it was curated with a clear vision. Essentially, Trickfinger sounds like a good attempt to make electronic music with strong nostalgia for '90s ambient music. That being said, the computerized palette he's playing with is not so extraordinary. The tricks of his synthesizer can be somewhat homogenous throughout the album; there's a recurring squeak put on ever other song, it seems. Frusciante replicates his inspirations well, but does not create an album as resounding as its predecessors in electronica. This album is an interesting piece of John Frusciante's career, almost as interesting as "Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt." It shows Frusicante can successfully hone his digital instrumentation from more erratic experiments. Hopefully, he will find that perfect balance of his own creativity and a computer's many strange effects.