At the end of 2016, we look back at a few albums we missed down the road. Monolith of Phobos by The Lennon Claypool Delirium is one such record.
With less than one month left to go, the end of the year is drawing very near indeed, and with it come the end of year bestest things of that year lists. Which means I start scrambling to put all the best stuff I’ve heard so far into a still uncertain order, hoping I won’t be surprised by something coming out of left field at the last moment. This made me realise there are a couple of really brilliant records poised to appear at the very top of my list which I haven’t talked about in this space, but am dying to (disclaimer: I still haven’t had the heart to listen to Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree in full, nor have I made my way through the entirety of Leonard Cohen’s swansong You Want it Darker). So this’ll be me playing catch-up for a few posts, because these albums deserve all the attention they can get.
Someone somewhere, possibly of divine nature must have thought, “What would happen if we threw the quirky psychedelica of Primus into a melting pot with the Beatle-esque meanderings found on Lennon’s Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger?” If you can conjure up a mental image of what that would sound like, you’ve arrived at what The Claypool Lennon Delirium sounds like. It’s an amalgam of styles that ranges between Primus and Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, whilst occasionally venturing into early Floydian soundscapes with a hint of Zappa and The Beatles thrown in for good measure. The Claypool Lennon Delirium’s biggest feat is that they actually manage to make Monolith of Phobos an utterly engaging album.
The opening title track, with its early Pink Floyd space rock sensibilities, makes one thing very clear: if you’re not a fan of a big sounding bass guitar being front and centre, Monolith of Phobos is not an album for you. Claypool’s distinctive bass sound is the driving force for each of the eleven songs, and it’s prominence might put some people off. The rest of us are in for an absolute treat. The second and third track, both movements of Cricket and the Genie sounds more like Primus, with big bass riffs as a foundation on which the both of them can layer their various psychedelic sounds, weaving them around a tale of genies and drugs. The second movement, with its continuing droning of “You oughta try it, you really oughta try it…” sounds like a weird fever dream, and you can’t help but wonder how the drugged up psychedelic scene would have perceived this sort of stuff back in the late sixties.
Mr. Wright, who “sets up little cameras ‘cause he likes to watch her shower,” works like a twisted, twenty-first century version of Floyd’s Arnold Layne. At least it does lyrically. Musically it’s very playful and experimental, with an off-kilter bass gallop leading the fray. Another highlight is Captain Lariat, a weird, distorted hybrid of Primus and The Beatles in their more experimental period. It’s utterly strange, but it works wonderfully, and that goes for Monolith of Phobos in its entirety. It throws a heap of styles into a big hat and you’d expect them not to gel at all, yet they do and result in an amazing and strangely coherent album. Whether it’s a bass-driven psychedelic rocker like Oxycontin Girl, a meandering trip such as Bubbles Burst or a spacey instrumental like There’s No Underwear in Space, it all comes together terrifically and never feels overlong with a quite lean fifty minutes playing time.
We can only hope that Monolith of Phobos isn’t the last we’ll see and hear of The Claypool Lennon Delirium, and that we can look forward to a second album somewhere in the future. These two guys have created a thing of genius whilst making it seem to easy. The fact that they churn great stuff like this out with such nonchalance might actually be one of the biggest achievements of Monolith of Phobos. Sounding very distinctively like something out of the warped minds of Sean Lennon and Les Claypool, the album also does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a great combination of late sixties, early seventies psychedelica and 2016 recording and playing sensibilities, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Label: ATO Records
Release date: out now
- The Monolith of Phobos
- Cricket and the Genie (Movement I, The Delirium)
- Cricket and the Genie (Movement II, Oratorio Di Cricket)
- Mr. Wright
- Boomerang Baby
- Breath of a Salesman
- Captain Lariat
- Oxycontin Girl
- Bubbles Burst
- There’s No Underwear in Space
- Les Claypool – Vocals, bass, upright bass (studio and live), mellotron (studio), drums (studio)
- Sean Lennon – Vocals, guitar (studio and live), mellotron, drums, autoharp, cosmic rain drum (studio)
Review by Ralph Plug