on 7 November 2003
This album is basically Mr. Bungle's finest album to date. The only way to describe it is as a homage to American music over the
20th century. An enormous amount of styles are blended seamlesly
together, lounge music, easy listening, Hawaian music, techno,
surf, rap, jazz and the list goes on. Unlike the two previous albums, the distorted electric guitar work of Trey Spruance is blended in to the pieces rather than being accentuated by it's nature. The effect of this is that, while Spruance may be playing what would sound like heavy rock riffs alone, the overall mood of the songs remain after he begins to play (e.g. None of them knew they were robots). As a result, the album will sound a lot less heavy than it actually is (I'd imagine some of these songs would sound quite differet live). Coherance is the key to this albums power, where it was the lack of which which hampered 'Disco Volante'. The degree of complexity on some of the instrumental arrangements is simply staggering and making this sound simple and texturally beutifull is an immense achievment in itself.
Although this album may sound less experimental than 'Disco Volante' the experimental nature of the band actually has not disappeared from Bungle's music, it is just the case that the band have learned to use this aspect to enhance the songs rather than including it for the sake of including it. Mike Patton displays some of his finest writing, which he may find difficult to better
in the future. The rest of the band are at least, if not more, involved with Dunn and Spruance playing a very large part. The lyrics are complex and thought-provoking, definately the finest the band has produced. Most of all however, the band still show a sense of humour, which has matured significantly since the messy
debut. If you are new to Mr. Bungle, then I would say that this is ceratainly the best place to start. It is interesting to note that while this is one of the most important rock albums of the last decade, it seems woefully neglected. If it is possible for music to be 'postmodernist' then this is it. A postmodernist classic, and there isn't many of them!
on 28 January 2006
Bungle are of course no more now, but their legacy was three completely diverse pieces of work. From the ska-punk-metal crossover of the first album, to the bizarre death metal-clubland mess of Disco Volante, to this glorious exploration of the dark side of sun-kissed west-coast 50's and 60's teen culture. All the influences are here: the Beach Boys on "Air-conditioned Nightmare"; Chris Isaac on "Pink Cigarette"; 50's rockabilly on "None Of Them Knew They Were Robots"; Hawaiian pedal-steel and Phil Spector-esque production on "Sweet Charity"; Doo-wop on "Vanity Faire"...and yet all with Bungle's superb knack for giving them a new and surreal twist. As always, Patton's vocals are immaculate. And there are two genuinely brilliant pieces: the fusion of Greek-style ceremony and lyre with metal on "Ars Moriendi", and a fantastic power-pop ballad in "Retrovertigo", genuinely touching and presented with absolute respect to the form. Bungle went out on a massive high, and it's a great shame that they never worked together again, because, as this record demonstrates, they had so much individual and diverse innovative and creative talent, which somehow worked perfectly as a whole. Magnificent.
on 12 November 1999
It's unusual to find a band that make genre pastiches, without just parodying each genre hamfistedly, to make a comedy number. Sure, Mr Bungle's music is often funny, in a strange way, but it just seems more sincere than most loopy bands, who just throw mud at a leper and see what will stick.
Overall I found this album FAR more entertaining than Disco Volante, the band's second mainstream album. There is some beautiful gothic pop on there, "Pink Cigarette", "Sweet Charity", "Retrovertigo", but still, there're the epic reams of music, to wash your auditory palate clean of all the sports metal tripe floating on the oily surface of modern music these days. "Ars Moriendi" conjures up images of Greek weddings in limbo, and "None of them knew they were robots" is a superb, almost incomprehensible theme tune for the ultimate Tom and Jerry cartoon.
The album is EXTREMELY accessible. The theme is one of summer, and tourism, though the only summery element of it is a few seconds of seagulls at the start. After that it's straight in with horror, humour and eros through ballrooms, wine cellars, barren planets and scenes from "Metropolis".
In all, I'd recommend this album to anyone new to Bungle, and anyone who's read the reviews that came out with claws, saying that Mr Bungle had gone soft. They most certainly haven't.
on 31 October 2003
Mr. Bungle came a long way from their self titled first album to create this work of what I can only describe as genius. The mixture of styles, although about as varied as you can get, compliment each other wonderfully to create a beautiful album.
The highlights include 'The Air-Conditioned Nightmare', Beach Boys style surf rock twisted into something that somehow manages to be dark and upbeat at the same time, 'Pink Cigarette', a ballad about as black as they come, and the very funky 'Gollum II (the bionic vapour boy)'.
I first heard Mike Patton in Faith No More, but I feel this album surpasses their later work with ease. If you're a Mike Patton fan, you'll love this. If you're not, you will be by track three.
on 6 January 2012
Mr Bungle can be a challenging listen. Their self-titled debut was a chaotic mixture of funk-metal, ska, jazz and toilet humour. The following release 'Disco Volante' was a dark exercise in self alienation and impossible feats of musicianship. Both releases proved to be musical Marmite for most people. I can understand why some found Bungle abrasive but personally, I wore out my copies of both albums and had to replace them.
So it is I go back in time to review the band's third and final album 'California'. I bought it at the time of it's release in 1999 and listened to it consistently for about five years. It is quite stunning how good California sounds after all these years. Recorded on reel-to-reel tape without the benefit of digital tweaking, these renditions are authentic and well performed. The writing is inventive and the production is carefully considered. Every song on this album is ear candy. It's perfect.
'None Of Them Knew They Were Robots' thunders along before diverting into Ren & Stimpy surf rock weirdness. 'Ars Moriendi' is a masterclass in genre splicing featuring everything from high speed folk accordions to thrash metal.
Bassist Trevor Dunn outdoes himself as the composer of 'The Holy Filament' and 'Retrovertigo'. The two songs are unexpectedly formulaic in structure, neatly side stepping the relentless chaos of previous albums. It's a welcome departure and the music is emotionally moving.
This is before we mention the vocal talents of Mike Patton. For me at least, California is his finest moment. His performances are consistently diverse and masterful.
California is not for everyone - There are inevitably people who will find the constant switching of musical styles distracting, but for those who understand the band, this is a mighty record.
on 26 January 2005
Although most of this album is not as unique-sounding as the band's previous album, disco volante, the synthesis of different styles (ranging from boogie woogie to surf to death metal) and musical references (from the Beach Boys to Neil Diamond to the turkish band Taraf de Haidouks) used by Mr. Bungle on this album make it more than the some of its parts. The album can be seen as the perfect homage to the state of california; at times manic and crazy, at times blissed out and sunny, the ups and downs of 'California' accurately reflect the schizophrenic nature of the state itself. Containing some of Mr. Bungle's most mature and lush acoustic arrangements, each song can be seen as a mini-symphony in itself yet the entire album works effortlessly as a cohesive unit through its thematic use of instrumentation (e.g. guitars drenched in reverb, timpani, strings and doo-wap vocals are just some of the instruments that reappear throughout the album). In addition, the production (the entire album was recorded using analog equipment) and vocal performances on this album are scarcely rivalled elsewhere.
on 22 March 2003
Another Mr Bungle album, another different, but equally warped sound. This is definitely a band of ever changing styles that all keep one thing in common, great, original music. With the self titled Mr Bungle album, the band embraced a funky sound and added their trademark quirkiness to it, be that musically,vocally, or lyrically and usually all three. This was followed up with Disco Volante, a mixture of speed metal and techno that leaves you blown away. Then cometh California. This album adopts the sound Mr Bungle are known for by many, demented fairground music. This is added to the backdrop of a mellow musical style, reaching the perfect blend of madness and sombreness. From start to finish this is a truly outstanding album, that it is sad to say looks to be the last from Mr Bungle. They have however opened the door for more bands to try something a little more experimental, long may that continue
on 21 September 2011
Of course, you have to be the kind of person who can listen to music for what it is without the need to 'get' it until it can be enjoyed fully. An album for reviewers who only have limited time and word space this is not. It takes a while to digest but on first listen that digestion is eased by songs like opener 'Sweet Charity' with it's chilled hawaiaan mood and closing key change. 'Retrovertigo' is one of the greatest pop songs of all time, or at least it would be if the charts recognised good music. Elsewhere Patton's sense of humour and playfulness pervade in lyrics like 'From the skyscrapers/down to the submarines' in 'Air Conditioned Nightmare' and the countdown to a heart attack at the end of 'Pink Cigarette'.
This is better than their other albums as it is more grown up and focussed but it still manages to blend humour and tastelessness to perfection that lesser songwriters couldn't hope to achieve. The death metal interlude in closer 'Goodbye Sober Day' is all the evidence you need!
As a swansong this album is a crying shame as it points towards the genius that this band could have gone to had they stayed together. But on the other hand, it goes to show how fragile something so evocatively brilliant can be so if you miss them, at least you have 3 great albums to remember them by!
on 28 October 2000
This is the album that encouraged me to look up avant-garde in the dictionary. Never have I experianced such bliss melodies combined with the occasional bit of thrash and good old fashioned mickey-taking. Every song is so beutifully constructed and differant from the last. Sweet charity is the ultimate opening song with a lavish milkman-whistleable chorus, luring you into a false sense of mellowness before the epic none of them new they were robots literally crashes in. The highlight of this album for me is the last song goodbye sober day with its "chag chag chagga chagga" chants, simalar to a certain fantomas cd. The only real problem with california (and I'm nit-picking) is the rather strange track golem II the bionic vapour boy, which bleeps and pings like a late 80's synth band, but all in all this album is well reccommended.
on 12 March 2013
This whole album is unfathomably good. Headed by Mike Patton, we are taken on a musical tour through fractured psyches, philosophical concepts, and... God only knows what else. I'm not good with musical jargon or composition, but I've listened to a lot and I know that of all the albums I've heard, this is the most perfect, exciting, thrilling, evocative, deep, intelligent of the lot. It's perhaps matched only by Radiohead's In Rainbows in terms of sheer humanity. I love this album, and the world would be a better place if people invited more Bungle into their lives.
Long live Patton, I pray for a reunion tour.