I listen to a lot of music, like an almost unhealthy amount of music, and have been known to embrace difficult music often for seemingly, its own sake. During my single free jazz period long ago, I was so down in it that I couldn't really relate to normal music tastes. One time, when I had a woman over at my apartment, I threw on what I thought was a pretty groovy let's-get-it-on Sun Ra album to which she gave me such a you-gotta-be-kidding-me-turn-that-shit-off look, I can feel its sting to the day. (A dormant Stevie Wonder album in my collection eventually saved the day, though, considering how that particular short sharp relationship ended, I should've trusted my gut and left the Sun Ra album on.) So what I'm getting at is, I am a hardened listener, one that's up for the challenge, relishes it in fact, so when something comes along that smacks me up my giant inflated head and I say "What the fuck is this?" its a treat.
The varied outputs of Mike Patton have filled that niche for me. Even his most mainstream stretch through Faith No More had an aggressive edge then the rest of the buds in the pepper patch, but I am talking about his less heralded but infinitely more adventurous terms in Mr. Bungle, collaborations with fellow line-in-the-sand John Zorn and his most recent excellently rattling configuration Fant?¥mas. A revolving cast of old friends and metal luminaries brought in to see Patton's hastily record demos to maddening fruition (in this case The Melvins' Buzz Osbourne on guitar, former Bungler Trevor Dunn on bass, and Slayer's Dave Lombardo on drums. Yes, that Slayer.) Patton, whose vocal range is one of the most versatile in the rock world (check his undeniably smooth metal wail on Mr. Bungle's California vs his death from below caterwaul in metal side project Tomahawk), offers a series of guttural squawks and grumbles and wordless croons, using his voice as another racket device onto their latest output Suspended Animation.
Adding to the overload is a dizzying array of samples from toys and children's music making this a Raymond Scott meth nightmare. Oh, and, its a concept album too, that the elaborate packaging has been turned by Japanese art-star Yoshimoto Nara into the coolest hipster calendar evah, and the band responds by naming each of the 30 songs after a day in April of 2005. Confused yet? Just wait.
The songs on this beautiful monster usually hover around the 1:30 mark, often containing more movements in each than you can even process. Like for instance "4/21/05 Thursday" starts with some pastoral harp plunking with a cooing and crying baby, with what sound like TV in the background, giving way immediately into a full metal jabber and drum assault, matched with some dramatic cinematic strings, momentarily foraying into a nest of cuckoo clocks and ending with mariachi horns. All in 1:40. and there are 29 other tracks just like it. Or completely different actually.
The thing that saves this from simply exploding your brain with no joy involved at all is there is an underlying consistency to it thanks to Mike Patton's scoring of the work and tireless ambition to see it through. I have heard (and even attempted to make) audio onslaught pieces like this, but often the interesting moments come by happenstance and are few and far between. This has the feel of a composed piece, that you feel the panting of the composer with each abrupt change. You can almost see each light bulb turning on when a brilliant sample from a Speak & Spell or subterranean death metal dirge kicks in at just the right time. And yet, it still has spontaneity and vigor enough to not be up its own compositional ass and instead be thoroughly entertaining.
Those familiar with Zorn's jazz-noise concoctions (a number of which fave featured Patton's insane vocals) will recognize the debt Suspended Animation has to the ferocious Naked City and Painkiller (which also featured Lombardo on drums, I believe) catalog. That said, this no simple aping of style, this is a delightful, terrifyingly fresh, asinine, brilliant recording. I'm on my 5th listen to it now and it gets more listenable and enthralling each go around. Its a good thing I'm out of the dating pool, or there would be a good chance that some poor innocent woman lured into my parlor would be trying to describe this torturous record to her girlfriends after her abrupt departure. And, while the door still hung open and the dust had yet settled from her hasty exit, I would be alternating banging my head and scratching my chin in delight.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com