Recording information: Rancho Relaxo.
Combining two significant rock pedigrees with a whole lot of weird, Primus' Les Claypool and Sean Lennon joined forces to form the Claypool Lennon Delirium. And delirium it is. Melding their eccentricities, the Delirium succeed in shaving down each artist's whimsies, reining them in and creating an exciting amalgam. This project could have been an indulgent exercise in psychedelic excess, the result of two mad scientists misplacing merit upon a glorified jam session. However, Monolith of Phobos is a treat. More focused than Primus and less precious than Lennon's solo output, the duo create kitchen-sink epics that rarely bore or allow for attention deficit. Based loosely on Buzz Aldrin's assertion that there is a rock purposely placed on Mars' "tater-shaped" moon, The Monolith of Phobos is a giddy trip into the galactic reaches of psych and prog. With meandering guitar, elastic bass, trippy flourishes, and some of the tightest musicianship this side of the galaxy, Monolith reveals a new dimension. Performing, producing, and engineering the entire affair themselves, Claypool and Lennon switch off vocal duties while allowing their instruments to wander through space. Claypool's bass is one of the stars of the show, adding a welcome low-end groove that Lennon's own music sometimes lacks. Meanwhile, Lennon's guitar work and gift for harmony shine (he also channels much of the surreal spirit of his father's post-Revolver creations). While not as kooky as typical Primus fare, Monolith still packs in a healthy dose of strange: there's the dirty journey of an old pervert who creeps through the night to get his rocks off on deviant voyeurism ("Mr. Wright") and a jaunty seaman's tale of a dentist who dabbles in alternative extracurriculars ("Captain Lariat"). There's also the theatrical two-part extravaganza "Cricket and the Genie," an ominously deranged tale about the dangers of prescription drug addiction. The final minutes of the second movement ("Oratorio Di Cricket") lives up to its name, including a disembodied chorus that would fit perfectly into any Tim Burton/Danny Elfman production. "Oxycontin Girl" is the third part of that "Cricket" triptych, a eulogy for a real-life opioid addict. While the lyrical content of these three songs is unexpectedly heavy, the momentum is carried by the buoyant instrumentation, resulting in what sounds like Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas doling out cautionary warnings in Alice's Wonderland. Throughout, Claypool's plodding twangs ("Breath of a Salesman") and Lennon's melodic touch ("Boomerang Baby") maintain the levity and fun. On the finale, "There's No Underwear In Space," the duo grants over three-minutes of ominous atmospherics to let listeners drift off into the abyss. It's an apt close to a quirky work that twists and turns all over the place, finally bringing all of their ideas together before sending them off into the far reaches of space. ~ Neil Z. Yeung