I know what you’re thinking if you haven’t yet heard the Sean Lennon and Les Claypool collaboration called The Claypool Lennon Delirium. You’re thinking you have no interest in hearing this band. You’ve heard Primus and all the other nautically-themed records Claypool has put out over the last 20 years on his own and with guests and you don’t want to hear anymore. Well, my argument for Primus’ genius, as well as the absolute prodigious talent of Les Claypool will be left for another day because today is all about Monolith of Phobos.
As far as Sean Lennon goes, up until a couple years ago I paid the guy no mind. I didn’t not like him, but I could care a less about his career and his following in mom and dad’s footsteps. Then I heard his collaboration with Deerhoof’s drummer Greg Saunier called Mystical Weapons and realized there was more to him than the ghost of a Beatle for a dad and his mom’s art installations. A mix of experimental and progressive music, Lennon proved to be quite adept and guitar, synths, bass, and just general noise making. I was officially impressed and a fan.
So then last year Primus tours with Lennon’s The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger which becomes a friendship between Claypool and Lennon. Lennon heads out to Claypool’s California home studio and hangs out with the 4-string wizard for two weeks. What began as just hanging out and possibly jamming turned into the heady, psychedelic, and catchy as hell Monolith of Phobos by the now christened The Claypool Lennon Delirium. What makes this album stand apart from previous albums by either guy and his various musical incarnations is the absolute glee and fun that comes pouring from the speakers. It possesses all the typical attributes that Claypool is known for; quirky vocals, bizarre lyrics about even more bizarre people, and of course plenty of killer bass. But with Sean Lennon thrown into the mix there’s a decidedly twisted pop feel here. It’s like the circus was invaded by acid-tinged late-60s psych pop bands and the result is this record. Monolith of Phobos is one of the most surprisingly brilliant albums you’ll hear this year.
Musically this album is pretty consistent. There isn’t genre jumping going on here like Lennon and Claypool have done in the past. They’ve written themselves parts here and they stay the course. “The Monolith of Phobos” opens the record with a bang. It’s like King Crimson’s “Providence” being pulled through a taffy machine. It’s doomy bass and noisy fingers down the chalkboard ornaments are being stretched and pulled before bass and mellotron pull it all back together. Claypool will always sound like Claypool. He’s not going to ever sound like anyone else. His vocals are unique and always will be. With Sean Lennon providing the ethereal background vocals here it’s like Sailing The Seas of Cheese psychically linked to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band and it’s quite riveting. “Cricket and the Genie” is broken into two movements, “The Delirium” and “Oratorio Di Cricket”. “The Delirium” has Lennon taking lead vocals and he adds that vocal brevity that gives the song a feel of some lost Nuggets track found on the bottom of some musty box in a long forgotten recording studio. It’s pure psych freak out. More Crimson and bits of Rush haunt this track with some King Biscuit Flower Hour vibes thrown in. “Oratorio Di Cricket” is a mostly instrumental fade out that sounds like Tom Waits jamming with John Wetton, Bill Bruford, and the ghosts of Barnum and Bailey.
Elsewhere “Mr. Wright” is full-on funk groove with lyrics pertaining to the antagonist of the song enjoying some voyeuristic pee-watching, while “Boomerang Baby” has Lennon and a harpsichord keeping up with some serious Claypool bass groove. “Oxycontin Girl” hits on the subject of opiate addiction quite profoundly, but only the way Les Claypool can hit on such a subject.
Monolith of Phobos hits on musical cues and lyrical subjects that both Les Claypool and Sean Lennon have delved in before, but with both of them working together they’ve made their artistic reach go further. The progressive tendencies and quirky pop embellishments come together quite beautifully and give us something decidedly bizarre and wonderful. Fans of Primus and Claypool’s solo output will not be disappointed, and those not familiar with Sean Lennon’s musical world will be doubly impressed. The Claypool Lennon Delirium is the best thing since chocolate and peanut butter. Or Sailing and cheese.
8.0 out of 10