By: Eric G.
Mr. Bungle is the ultimate dilettante-type band, crossbreeding genres and styles in turbo-charged changes and complex structural experiments. For its third record in a decade, the band makes a soulful and melodic album, trading some of the avant-garde speed-metal improvisation for genuine tunes with choruses and everything. The crazy changes are still there, though not nearly as aggressive as on Disco Volante, but still mind-boggling in their intricacy and accuracy. If you have a capacity for silliness and insanity in your rock ‘n roll, this record will blow your mind.
Faith No More was always vocalist Mike Patton’s commercial outlet until its demise last year, whereas Mr. Bungle has been home to his most eccentric adventures. He has released two solo albums on John Zorn’s Tzadik label where he experimented with his vocal abilities, and he’s definitely honed in on his voice’s most effective attributes. He can jump from a baritone to a falsetto effortlessly and frequently does, playing different roles- sometimes within the same song. The bonus is that on this record Patton’s contribution is catchy in addition to being weird and cartoonish and in your face.
California’s emphasis on jazzy lounge instead of speed metal riffage is perhaps its biggest surprise. “Sweet Charity” features melodramatic big band song structures mixed with old western soundtrack weirdness while Mike Patton coos and croons in all earnestness. “None Of Them Knew They Were Robots” delves into some perfectly executed rockabilly that seems to morph into a showtune of sorts complete with death metal guitars. Truly genius stuff. The most exciting song on California is “The Air-conditioned Nightmare”, which attacks your sensory board with an assault of Beach Boys pop, raucous changes, sci-fi sound effects, and over the top musicianship.
Mr. Bungle doesn’t share many contemporaries, so the closest comparison would have to be Frank Zappa. The band’s disdain for conventional structure or even commercial appeal permeates this kaleidoscopic record, but underneath the caustic veneer these songs are simply pretty- mutated and strange- but pretty nonetheless. Mr. Bungle is always a hard swallow, but California might go down smoother, which is not to take away from its bravado but rather a testament to its strange cohesiveness. California is arguably the band’s finest record, and it is certainly one of the best records of the year.