Monolith of Phobos
There is, in the end, nothing at all surprising about this collaboration between Primus’ Les Claypool and John and Yoko’s son, Sean. It sounds like the best bits of the music they’re known for separately. When a track gets too Primus-y, as on Captain Lariat, one of those sun-kissed psychedelic perfect-pop change-ups, courtesy of Sean Lennon, takes it into a new space. Then Claypool can double back around and get his bass hiccupping and galloping and drinking far too much fizzy in the back of the car as they ride along together. But it’s never just a Primus song. And when it is – it’s one of the better ones.
Same goes for when Sean is leading the way. For all of the great material he’s made under his own name and particularly in recent years as one half of The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, with its unmistakable Beatles-y hue and its leaps into psychedelic pop and surging rock there is something really special here when Claypool creates one of this whirlpooling, see-sawing rhythms beneath and all around (Ohmerica). As drums tumble beneath Lennon’s cool coo of a voice and Claypool blindly counts the frets and the fastest way to move between them, up and down them and all around them, the picture of sound created is one that sounds – so remarkably – like what you would expect a collaboration between these two to sound like almost so as to nearly be unremarkable but always catchy, quirky, clever and quite often hypnotic in its weird funk, Monolith of Phobos has both players reaching and striving but never trying too hard to stray from their natural game/s.
Another way of putting all that [^] is to say that the perfect marriage has been created here, for this never gets silly-quirky the way Primus music so often can (and I say that as a fan). It also gives Lennon some new places to go musically. So often we compare him to his father – for there is unmistakeably a tone that’s been passed down as if genetic trait. But think, too, he must have inherited so much from his mother – who raised him. That’s why he’s able to take pop out into weirdness. Or to lead the search party that retrieves it from out in the wild.
Lennon and Claypool appear to have each other’s back. They clearly have an understanding of the work that precedes this in either case; more than that – an actual admiration.
I think, too of Buzz Melvins’ ideas – how in so many ways this feels like the Melvins as prog-meet-art-pop band. Maybe Buzz could join them for the next album? No, they’re doing just fine as it is. They really are. I hope there’s another album. This has got legs. It’s also got plenty of heart. And smarts. Monolith of Phobos might even achieve that rare feat of bringing in new fans. Anyone scared off by Primus but impressed by Claypool’s talents has of course had other options over the years but this is him playing with his straightest of straight bats. Anyone who hasn’t caught up with the Saber Tooth material or thinks only of Sean when those silly Beatles Sons articles materialise has plenty of brand new food for thought with the tastes of offer here.
And yet I couldn’t see how existing fans of either enterprise could be put off or let down by this.
A quite remarkable journey in the end. Something with grit and soul and just the right amount of silliness. Bubbles Burst is one of the highlights, Lennon’s guitar playing is magic on this. And it has all the right kind of throwback feel. Phobos deserves to hang – quite rightly – in the unique space it has found and carved out.