An Extended Suite For Musical Insanity
From the archives: Michael Fremer reviews Mr. Bungle's 'Disco Volante'
(This review originally appeared in Issue 7, Spring 1996.)
An extended suite for musical insanity and sonic meatcleaver that mutates The Bonzo Dog Band, Spike Jones, Nino Rota, Frank Zappa, Alvin Cash, The Art Of Noise, surf music, exotica, industrial heavy metal sludge, the tango, methedrine, Metallica, Don Van Vliet, and just plain old fashioned wise-assery into a rip roaring roller coaster ride through a double E ticket musical and sonic fun house. That these guys are at home playing with, and in all of these musical genres—and with a real “up yours” attitude—is one thing, but what really sets this up as something definitely worthy of your attention is the way they mix and match the stuff. It’s positively symphonic in scope—and sweeping in its ambition.
“Desert Search for Techno Allah”—an extended suite for musical intifada—is masterful in its mix of genres and sonic concrete crosscurrents. Chanting, Arabic percussive rhythms banged out on tablas and tweaked with finger cymbals, mutating high and low frequency oscillators belching and chirping, are mixed and matched to create a dynamic, abstract mini-drama.
“Violenza Domestica,” sounding like an episode of an Italian radio soap opera, begins with the sound of a knife being sharpened and then proceeds to tango through a violent, erotic scenario, abstract in its execution but starkly direct in its implications. Never before have castanets, a Jew’s harp, a cheesy organ, a breezy accordion, and the sounds of a testosterone charged Italian male and a groaning female been more effectively combined to portray the tragic/comedic implications of the scourge of domestic violence.
And so it goes, through a series of Fellini-esque cut and paste musical verites with song titles like “Everyone I Went To High School With Is Dead,” “Phlegmatics,” “Carry Stress In The Jaw” and “The Bends”—the most Nino Rota driven of the 12 CD tracks—which ends with the most great/awful noise that’s ever driven through your speakers.
After a while certain predictable patterns of musical and sonic shtick become apparent and somewhat annoying, for instance the juxtaposition of genres like metal power chords with jazz noodling, or the band’s constant leaning on Rota like a stiff dry noodle, but when taken in medium sized doses, Mr. Bungle is loads of fun. Unfortunately these guys don’t know when to stop. This biscuit goes on forever and then fizzles out with some in-studio expletives which weren’t deleted.
If something as visually evocative as this actually catches on with the MTV generation, there’s hope yet for the survival of the rapidly disappearing art of listening to music without looking at it.
Who is Mr. Bungle? Well from the credits they seem to be from the Bay area, and they like funny names like I Quit, and Uncooked Meat Prior To State Vector Collapse, though there’s also a Trevor Dunn and a Clinton McKinnon listed. Writing credits mostly go to Dunn and a T. Spruance, who could be I Quit or Mr. Collapse.
While the dynamic, wide band, superbly well-engineered recording sounds outstanding in either format, the CD is the far more dynamic of the two, which is not surprising since a great deal of music had to be squeezed onto just two sides plus a bonus 45rpm single which also has a track on its flipside not on the CD.
Also, one track on the LP is obviously cut with two sets of parallel grooves (an old Monty Python album was cut like that for an entire side: depending on which groove you hit when you put the stylus down determined which “record” you heard). One play through the song ends with the word “lip” as it does on the CD, another time it ended with heavy metal noise (see letters column in this issue). Great ear candy, and frequently inspired, let’s hope Mr. Bungle can come back with more goods next time.