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Published: 2009/03/17
by Fady Khalil

Of Fungi and Foe – Les Claypool

Prawn Song

Les Claypool’s music is eccentric. But to his fans, the Primus alum’s weirdo masquerade is just part of the fun, and ultimately gives context to his unorthodox, yet virtuosic bass playing. His newest album, Of Fungi and Foe, was inspired by previous soundtracks he penned for an interactive game about intelligent mushrooms and a movie about a dope fiendin’ pig. Naturally.

With weirdness safely intact, this album, however, shies away from the raucous displays of bass-directed lunacy which permeate much of Claypool’s past work. Instead, he opts for a more refined, precise experience, perhaps a necessity brought on by the two soundtracks destined for mainstream release. It’s slightly Les Claypool, or less Claypool, and yet clichs it may be, less can be more.

The album starts with aforementioned nod to fungi intelligentsia, “Mushroom Men.” This cut is perhaps the sharpest display of Claypool’s bombastic adventurism throughout the 12 songs. It careens towards sonic insanity as his bass adorns a synthesized skin, stopping just short of the basstronic megalomania of “Whamola.” But this isn’t Purple Onion. The Zappa-like serrated guitar edges are altogether absent from this song, noticeably trimming the fury that Claypool can provoke by himself.

Yet with less intensity, songs become spacious, with more room for creativity. The depth of exploration that Claypool pursues throughout “Mushroom Men” is inspiring. His ability to constantly reinvent the central bass theme becomes the song’s main focal point, easily matching the fascination engendered by his wild-eyed riffing throughout 2006’s Of Whales and Woe.

As the foundation for the album, the song shapes much of the rest of the sound emanating from the project. Title track, “Of Fungi and Foe,” “Kazoo,” and “You Can’t Tell Errol Anything,” all skew towards disciplined creativity over uncontrolled catharsis. As Claypool experiments with sound—dissecting it, reshaping it, transforming it—he’s clearly not overly concerned about placating the jam-lust of his traditional fan base. The emphasis here is on subtleties, not wow-factor. It’s about creating a mood.

On “Amanitas,” exotic, far-eastern sounding scales provide a delicate bit of mind pleasure which can often be overlooked in the climbs to rockgasm of past albums. Likewise, the political pigeon-holing throughout “Red State Girl,” lends itself to the more cerebral tendencies of the project, and threatens to expose Claypool as the master satirist he is, but rarely gets credited for being. Indeed, “She wants to grow up to be Sarah Palin, she’s a self-proclaimed, bona fide red state girl.”

Some of Claypool’s cast of characters includes percussionist Mike Dillon, son Cage Claypool, and a rousing collaboration with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello. Hutz’s sonic sensibilities seem particularly well-suited in the world of fungi and foes. Replete with his Eastern European gypsy-flair, “Bite Out Of Life” is odd and yet strangely right. The tune opens your eyes to the potential of the live performances to follow this album; it’s simply colossal.

With Claypool and friends starting from such a high state of creativity, they’re almost guaranteed to reach unreal planes of astral projections once removed from the confines of a studio. This is generally true of all those who aspire to the jambandian creed: the live effort exceeds the studio work. Of Fungi and Foe is part fungi, part foe, and all Claypool, which should be plenty enough for fans. However, newcomers may consider getting their hands on a live release first, to get a better feel for the Claypool experience.

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