How does the saying go, strange men acquainted can make great bedfellows? After a successful summer tour together, Les Claypool and Sean Lennon decided they could do more than just share a bill. The pair found common ground over some Claypool Estates wine and like galaxies colliding, the portmanteau project The Claypool Lennon Delirium was born.
The two purveyors of oddity have instantly recognisable styles. Claypool’s has been honed over his 30 some years in the industry as the figurehead of alternative oddballs, Primus. Lennon, though active musically since the early nineties, has only in the last decade emerged as a heavy hitter in the psych rock scene with his brilliant outfit The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. Their second LP, 2014’s Midnight Sun is one of the best psychedelic albums of this century so far combining circus-like theatrics, sardonic lyrics and sprawling guitar passages rivalling progenitors, Pink Floyd.
Their debut album, Monolith of Phobos is equal parts Claypool’s bouncing, jaunty riffs and Lennon’s enveloping atmospherics. Lyrics are divvied up in a similar manner, with Claypool’s twisted tales wrapped in homespun colloquialisms juxtaposed with Lennon’s slow-burning, measured contemplations. There is, however, a third element. When they stop playing backup to each other’s ideas and just go off together, the results are magnificent.
Lead single, ‘The Cricket and the Genie‘ splices Claypool’s stomp and Lennon’s sway like a carnival ride jerking three steps forward then two to the side. A driving bass and Lennon’s lofty lyrics tie this sputtering beat to a sort of zombie waltz. The second movement carries over the inspiration Claypool gained while crafting his druggy-noir take on the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory soundtrack. He chants tauntingly “You really ought to try it!” like a chorus of dour Oompa Loompas hauling away another gluttonous victim.
Claypool, as always, delivers his trademark twisted tales of deviant characters best exemplified by the ironically titled ‘Mr. Wright‘. A tale of an outwardly upstanding citizen with a penchant for voyeurism. Claypool’s sly bass line is the sonic equivalent of creeping through the bushes. The true triumph of the album comes when he melds himself in to Lennon’s production. With a dialled back, though still effective, bass motif and supportive rather than attention-demanding vocals, ‘Boomerang Girl‘ is a stand out track that is borne out of the space between the two artists. Seagulls in the distance feedback sails over a foggy verse. A moded harpsichord solo somehow segues perfectly in to Lennon’s hazy closing mantra.
‘Bubbles Burst‘ has the duo going full Floyd. Lennon’s voice effects warble under dazed out ravings of spoiled chimpanzees. Claypool’s backing vocals whizz by like a passing spaceship. Climactic strings pair with an uncharacteristically sentimental bass melody from the low-end master. Not to be outdone, Sean Lennon shows off his Gilmour-like soloing chops on this beautiful penultimate track.
Monolith of Phobos is an enthralling collection of songs. The tracks don’t necessarily share an overarching thematic story like the stereotypical prog concept album, but the themes do connect on more levels than just the absurdity of their conveyance. The two seem to really understand how the other is wired. Their storytelling approach to songwriting is very compatible which is pretty astounding when you consider how unique they appear to be on their own.
If you are a fan of any of their other projects, The Lennon Claypool Delirium definitely satisfies. For the uninitiated, Monolith of Phobos is a prime introduction to their psychedelic worlds. One can hope that this project becomes more than just a one-off because the next record could be full of that magic third element.
‘Monolith Of Phobos’ is released on June 3rd 2016 through ATO Records.