Saying that a Les Claypool album is strange is like commenting on the existence of oxygen, or the color of the sky. It’s assumed that when you’re dealing with Claypool, abnormality is the norm. Of Fungi and Foe (CD – MP3) isn’t going to surprise listeners in that sense, but it does travel a bit more blatantly through carnival territory than his other releases of this decade.
The album is populated, per usual, by a bizarre cast of characters, and Claypool seems to have no shortage of demented, inexplicable musical backdrops against which to set their adventures. Some of the record’s music is gleaned from Claypool’s work on the video game Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars, and it’s a natural connection when you think about it. Who better than Claypool to create music for a video game about mushrooms that gain intelligence after a comet crashes to the earth?
The animated, cartoony quality of Claypool’s music is on full display in nearly every song. Springy, almost comical bass lines dominate demented character studies like “Kazoo,” which features Mike Dillon on vibraphone along with some rustily wonderful violin work. The wild title track and “Bite Out of Life,” which features Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hutz, reflect the album’s slightly percussive focus. There’s a bevy of bongos and other oddball percussion all over the album.
The lyrical subject matter is more skewed with ridiculous proclamations than ever, and “Primed by 29” is sure to gain a cult following for its absurd lyrics and classic yelping Claypool vocals. The lyrics, while new, are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from him in terms of complete randomness – “Have you seen Ol’ Rosco,” “she wants to grow up to be Sarah Palin,” and the like.
Of Fungi and Foe is far from a fully realized Claypool album. It’s vibe is decidedly one of haphazard song collection and resigned release, almost as if Claypool hardly realized he wanted to release an album at all until he suddenly had 12 usable songs gathered. The album isn’t going to convert those who dislike Claypool, and it probably won’t surpass Purple Onion or any Primus albums in his fans’ hierarchy. But if you’re looking for a concentrated dose of Claypool madness and experimentation, this one will do just fine.