Mr. Bungle – California

I’m still foraging through the other emails sent from yesterday’s playlist but in the meantime, well, the gods from have spoken and today’s pick (out of our 20 remaining) isMr. Bungle’s CaliforniaI’m not quite sure what to say about this album, as I’ve roughly heard one or two tracks.  If you want to enhance your listening, as always, here’s the Wikipedia page

If it helps, I did catch two words while scanning the page: “normal” and “accessible”, but normal was in quotes in the description which makes me think that perhaps there’s some mockery implied.  Or perhaps I’m just really sensitive on this last Tuesday of July.

Anyhow, here’s the link to the playlist:



Mr. Bungle – California: 4 stars (given genre considerations)

Precon: Mike Patton doing some weird stuff as usual. I think I’ve heard a song or two. It’s hard to keep all his different projects straight.

Favorite Track: Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy
Least Favorite: The Holy Filament (though the piano is haunting)

Kept expecting Sweet Charity to do something different, but it didn’t.
Well, the second track’s not letting me down on the weirdness front.
After that insanity, we transition to a lullaby. Of course.
Haha this is crazy. I don’t even know what to say.
Wtf with the beeping at the end of Pink Cigarette?
This album is a good exercise in ordered chaos. Patton is a madman, and the schizophrenic music is just as mad, but it’s all done competently. It kept me very interested and actively engaged, for better or worse. I feel like I want to listen to it again sometime, but I can’t imagine a time and place where it would be like “Aw yeah, it’s Bungle time.”


Preconceived Notions: I’ve heard maybe two songs off of this album, and that was fairly recently.  Prior to that, I had no idea who this person/band/artistic endeavor was.  I will admit to getting nervous when you have to indicate that something is “accessible”.

As Listening:
Sweet Charity: good job at setting the atmosphere it goes from sounding island idyllic to ominously retro in one fail swoop.
None of them Knew: There’s something about this song that reminds me a lot of Squirrel Nut Zippers (despite the heaving sensation that some might have gotten in their stomach at the mention of that name) without the adherence to a formula.  This one sounds like it’s some sort of escapee from a Dick Tracy comic book.  An overload for the senses, in a colorful way.
Retrovertigo: I really quite like this.  It’s got that anthemic feel about it and it feels like something similar to Blur’s “The  Universal” or like something that should be playing at the end of a film, over the credits.
The Air Conditioned Nightmare: Oh, it had me at the harmonies.  It honestly sounds like a single that Brian Wilson would have done by himself when he was super high and if he hadn’t been hamstrung by Mike Love
Ars Moriendi: This is too performance arty for me to listen to on a regular basis.
Picture in my head: I’m standing in a “museum” which would really just be an abandoned warehouse with one 13” television in the middle and all it played was the same 30 seconds of a Chihuahua doing a solo tango for 24 hours straight.  This is the music playing in the background.  If I emerge with my sanity at the end of said 24 hours, I win a $15 gift certificate to either the custom leather shop or the Olive Garden.  Performance Art mostly sucks.
Pink Cigarette: Well at least the anxiety level has dropped from the last song.  This actually has a bit of a Morricone influence about it, no?
Picture in my head:  Indiana Jones and Marion breaking up in the Morrocan desert at sunset, their respective camels going separate ways, in slow-motion.  But that screaming in the background is disturbing.  Maybe Marion should turn back
Golem II: Picture in my head: I’m in a horror movie right at the part where everything is pitch black and my hands can’t find any wall to anchor myself on.  I suddenly hear a Jack-in-The-Box pop open, but I’m too afraid to scream. Then miniature stage lights come on all at once and all of the toys start to put on a circus, like if Sid’s room in Toy Story put on a show.  It’s not malicious just creepy, and yet, entertaining at the same time, and a lot better than what I thought was awaiting me in the dark.
The Holy Filament: Part of this feels like an ode to The Beach Boys “Our Prayer”.  And I don’t care if I’m letting the “California” title sway my reactions. Picture in My Head: I’m in an episode of the Twilight Zone that’s set in the Old West.  Just before guns are about to be drawn in a shootout, a wormhole opens up in the sky, and like Contact, it transports me through, in slow-motion of course
Vanity Fair: HAHAHA.  Did Colour Me Badd turn this single down? I like the combination of doo-wop with crazy lyrics.  Picture in my head: This is the song that would be playing at the prom if Edward-Scissorhands era Tim Burton had directed Back to the Future and Lea Thompson was no longer Lea Thompson but an Avatar-esque creature.  Did he just use the word “eunuch”?!
Goodbye Sober Day: Picture in My Head: On a Fifth Element-style cruise ship in the future, this is what the stage show would be set to.  There would be one little person as the emcee introducing acts of miniature elephants on tightropes, a dance troupe made up of a bicycle gang and a couple performing the Tango of Death.

After Listening: As you can tell, I really enjoyed the cinematic, atmospheric quality of most of this stuff.  It at least got my brain engaged.  I didn’t actually manage to concentrate on any work while I was listening, but that’s a good thing, for my judging at least.  I enjoyed it a lot more than I initially anticipated.  The lack of format always throws me and I know that’s the “art” part of it, but I could never just put this on and listen to it.  I’m not sure when, but at some point in my life, I’d like to hear this again.  I’m also really intrigued by what those circumstances would be that I’d be hearing this.

Favorite: Retrovertigo
Least Favorite: Ars Moriendi

Overall: 4.4


Preconceived Notions:  When I 1st heard this album, I wasn’t a Bungle fan.  Much like my concept of Zorn, I needed an album like this one – a “more accessible” sounding one to sort of cut my teeth on, before I was ready for Mr Bungle.  I’m going to do a few comparisons between Zorn and Bungle with this review, and not because musically the two records sound similar (bc they don’t), but they are the closest in terms of “spirit” to each other than any other bands we’ve looked at.  (Patton works with Zorn a lot – and was on a track of The Big Gundown”) Oh, and let’s just get this out of the way….Mike Patton is a man among boys as far as a vocalist.

After Listening: I’ll say up front that grooveshark does sort of squeeze some of the full sound spectrum out of these. I’m not saying that if you hated this album you’ll like it when you hear higher quality versions…but it would’ve helped.  One of the reasons that grooveshark had a problem with this, is that (like the Zorn stuff) the instrumentation palate on this record is huge.  Accordions, string sections, cimbalom, horns….etc they all sort of stretch what is possible to compress into the audio format for online use.  Fortunately Bungle’s spirit can still be heard, and although they have a wide variance of options – they never get bogged down in musical complexities just for the sake of being complicated.  It’s a fun record.  Very quirky with a myriad of styles displayed from doo wop to Indian monkey chant, from surf music to polka, rockabilly to lounge this record just about has it all.  And these styles aren’t simply combined for a “look at me” effect, they’re intricately woven into each song’s construction – sure you’re aware when the changes happen, but they fit seamlessly at times – and always they fit with the band’s overall signature style.  These are guys that are having fun with musical exploration within recognizable (to most) formats – the vocals aren’t afraid to play with the moods of the pieces – and Patton keeps the serious stuff serious, and the light stuff light.   One last thing that’s impressive about the album is the production – with so much going on in the songs, the actual art of mixing – where  placing things in the soundscape for the listener becomes very important.  Good production and audio mixing is probably the thing we take for granted when we look at these, we figure if they got it on the record – they got it right….but just like a composer has to trust a symphony to “hear” his work the same way he does, a producer needs to be able to faithfully bring an artist’s vision to a record.  And when you’re working with a vision like Mike Patton’s and some of these other guys…that’s no easy task.

Favorite Tracks:  “None of them Knew they were Robots” – a frantic driving opening, briefly relieved by vocals with horns.  The driving theme reoccurs throughout the song, sometimes mirrored in the bass in the background, other times in a thin guitar line, still other times in a piano section…but it’s almost always somewhere.  The vocals are run through various distortions – at times to mirror a very 40’s sounding recording.  And they (the vocals) have their place actually played with in the mix, so that sometimes they exist in the foreground, sometimes as the driver (compressing the tracks for online use sort of limits how genius this actually is)…there’s a fair amount of gibberish in the lyrics – but the actual delivery sort of helps you just embrace it as a form of scatting.  There’s a lot of brilliant musicianship on this track, particularly the horns.
“The Air Conditioned Nightmare” –  (a Henry Miller reference) which begins with a sort of epic solo vocal line amid rangey tones, and a clip clop rhythm, only to progress into some sort of rockabilly/metal hybrid.  Everything about this song’s construction was spot on. I mean consider the vocal and music lines as they rise briefly on the front half of  “from the skyscrapers”, then after reaching that brief apex they descend all the way to the bottom on the “down to the submarines” – and then enter the tambourine.  There’s both fury and peace to this one and both are explored deeply and seamlessly in under 4 minutes.  By the time Patton is looking for his “halo” we get the peaceful poppy counterpointe end that the very epic beginning sort of foreshadowed.
“Pink Cigarette” – This one is a clever style parody that goes over the top with a purpose. The reverby-clicky guitar lines bring up a sort of foreign phrasing before the song moves into the torch song vocal segments.  You can hear the deliberate vocal dissonance on the supporting chorus singers, which adds both a humorous and a creepiness to a lyrical content about the loss of a love.  We get whispers, Patton’s emotive delivery, and the song’s subject matter all played fairly straight up, but the parody pushes one last obvious over-the top moment with the clichéd ekg beeping amid Patton’s “its hours left til you find me dead…”
“Ars Moriendi” – Based on the “Art of Dying”….we get this started with sort of a metal/traditional Hebrew scale combination.  Probably the most “metal” song on the record, they aren’t afraid to undercut this premise at times with happy accordion, and some superb rhythmic choices.  I’m unsure if the decision to use such a Jewish theme on this was a deliberate choice as a humorous counterpointe to the fact that the actual “Ars Moriendi” is a Catholic, and then more widely accepted Christian work- as Christ is mentioned throughout the texts.  But given what I know of Patton, I assume it was, and that just makes the thing even cooler.
“Goodbye Sober Day”  – because who doesn’t enjoy a great monkey chant?  The song is very basic compared to most of the others on the record.  But it has some nice elements outside of the chant.  To begin the song showcases some sounds reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina…a sort of swaying rhythm, other worldly tone color (horns and keys) – backed by vocals which themselves sort of sway and blur.   By the time we get to the Indian droning section…we’ve been prepped for something special.  And when Patton’s voice cuts through after the meditative humming, we get it.  There are multiple layers to it, the guitar and drumming accompaniment, the scat-like chant, to the recessed vocal hits, and then the consonant chanting behind it all which occurs after the brief break.   The 2nd half of the song is a lot like the 1st, with a build, only this time the build is to a very short fade.

Overall 5.0 The very best thing about this album is its replay value.  Not only can you listen b/c you identify with certain songs (or pieces of songs), but because subsequent listens can turn you on to even new levels – new snippets of elements you can appreciate.  I’ve been listening to this album for 10 years, and I’ll still pickup on things I haven’t really heard before.  These guys prefer to fall on the weird, “we’ll do what we want” side of the whole “is this pretentious” debate that often comes with dense music.  Stylistically (as the sum of so many styles actually) this thing just rewards you with an oddly predominantly melodic presence.  It’s epic/stripped down, mellow/intense, American/foreign….I’ll say it’s cacophony pop.   Whatever you want to label it-it’s an original: beautiful, and impressive.


Preconceptions: Sadly, I know nothing of Mr. Bungle. Their name made me think that they were an 80s hair metal outfit, but apparently that is not the case. Who would’ve guessed with a name like Mr. Bungle, right? I was expecting to hear at least one power ballad, but now I have to switch gears and prepare for something Mike Pattoney.

After Listening: Lots of interesting stuff going on with this record. It’s kind of vaudevillian, I’d say, and delivered in a cool way. There are all sorts of different sounds and instruments that I probably couldn’t speak on with any true insight. But it’s all put together very well. This is a case where, yeah, it seems produced to death, but the outcome is very impressive and worthwhile. Another thing I dig is the changes within each song. I’m a fan of that sort of thing, and in this case I liked it very much. I also really like the minimalist cover art for the record, for what that’s worth.

Favorites: Ars Moriendi, None of Them Knew They Were Robots, and the Golem one
Least: Sweet Charity

Overall: 4.0 stars

admin (196 Posts)

Record Club began in the cold, dank, snowmageddon scene that was New England of January 2011. We’re probably no different than you. We all work in cubicles, some in smaller, less private cubicles than others; that just means we have to be even sneakier about how we listen to our music. But we have to listen to our music, mostly as a way of saving our own personal sanity. Sometimes our opinions lead us to debates that may or may not be published in their entirety on this site, but I can promise you’ll at least get a glimpse of the way our minds work. The main goal is to find new music we like or find old music that we didn’t know we liked. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes it’s a total and complete disaster. After our ears have rejoiced or stopped bleeding we try something else. This is our pattern, every Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes, when the club isn’t officially in session, just to keep everyone on their toes, we throw in a theme day. We’re beginning to run low on our original list, so please, if you have albums that you’d like us to review or themes that you’d like to see our playlist of, feel free to contribute. After all, we’re all in this together once we punch the time clock. So if you’re busy (or just plain bored) lurking in your cubicle as you read this join in. After all, life wasn’t meant to be lived staring at a computer screen. I guarantee you, it’s at least more fun when you plug the headphones in.

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