Reviews Puscifer Conditions of My Parole

Puscifer

Conditions of My Parole

You can stop staring at your watch with misplaced optimism; there's still no news from Tool on their fifth album, and A Perfect Circle have reiterated their vow not to work on an album-length project again. So then what exactly, you might ask, is everyone's favourite rock-star-turned-vintner doing, if not fronting one of his established bands? As it turns out, Maynard James Keenan is working mostly on culinary or wine-related projects. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been musically active as well. Recently, Keenan has taken the time to release the latest album of his solo project Puscifer, the disconcertingly titled Conditions of My Parole, which was recorded in between his other endeavours. (I mean that statement literally; it was recorded in one of his wine cellars.)

Unlike his releases with Tool, the instrumental composition on this album isn't complex at all. Actually, it's on the completely opposite end of the spectrum; it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it's the most formulaic writing of Keenan's entire career. Compositionally speaking, the arrangements rely heavily on repetition and simplicity, traits rarely found without purpose through the rest of his works. The music hardly ever strays from common meters, jarringly simple drum loops abound, and melodies are often repeated ad nauseam over the course of an entire piece without any kind of embellishment. Even the voice parts make little use of his incredible vocal talent. Nowhere on the album will you hear the complex harmonies of Mer De Noms and eMOTIVe or the raw expressive power of 10,000 Days. In addition, the lyrics are almost laughable in their banality—the lyrics to "Man Overboard" could've been written by a moderately inspired third grader. And even when they're not pointlessly repetitive, they're marked with the sense of perversity and black humour that pervaded Tool's early albums. Of course, without the underlying symbolism, they come off as merely sophomoric, not edgy.

Once you take all of that away from the music, the only really selling point this album has left is Keenan's distinctive voice. If you're incredulous that his voice alone is enough to carry an album, don't worry, I'm with you on that one. On its face, it seems like a petty excuse to cash-in from an otherwise respected artist. The catch is, even with all of the musical complexities stripped away, Keenan still takes immense pains to make sure the album is as aurally pleasing and engaging as possible. By eradicating the excess and stripping down the music to its minimal components, he's allotted himself a lot of space to experiment heavily with the interplay between rhythm and vocal layering. The basic harmonies, simple rhythmic patterns, and soft dynamics all combine to produce an experience unlike anything found with Tool or A Perfect Circle. The subtlety of emotion he creates with just these basic elements is absolutely incredible. "Tiny Monsters" creates a sense of levity unheard of from Keenan, "Conditions of My Parole" invariably produces a chortle from its sheer ridiculousness, and "Horizons" conveys a heartfelt sense of longing rivaled only by Keenan's ode to his deceased mother, "Wings for Marie." However, his strongest song has to be "The Rapture (Fear is a Mind Killa Mix)," a rant against apocalyptic fear-mongering. The unnerving honesty and graveness in his voice when he sings "I want to drop you like Cain / like Cain dropped Abel" will send literal shivers up your spine.

Wait a minute. Did I just spend an entire review describing how a lack of complexity and intricacy in composition was actually beneficial for an album? I think I may have just forfeited my licence to be a progressive rock snob.

If you're still ticked that A Perfect Circle won't record a new album or that Tool have been incredibly lax about recording their fifth, then Conditions of My Parole will certainly tide you over until new material hits. More than that, it is a legitimately good album in its own right—fans of experimental post-industrial rock will find a lot to enjoy in this album. It's certainly one of the better pop-oriented albums of the year, and a testament to Keenan's immense musical talent and expressive ability.

8.0 / 10Sarah
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