, September 10th, 2012 00:32
For guitarist John Frusciante to have weathered the critical storms of a career as a Red Hot Chili Pepper so well is something of a minor miracle. Sure, bassist Flea might well get his props as a player for hire but still remains represented as a red-bull-amped and bobble-headed comedy caricature. With Frusciante's insanity years (relatively) behind him, the theory for some is that his light has been hidden obscured by the shadow of the Red Hot albatross.
While his prodigious solo output has included several great guitar-led albums and some interesting forages into electronica, Frusciante still hasn't cemented himself as either a fulfiller of expectations or a reliable maverick. There is a train of thought that John Frusciante may be about as close as we are going to get to a major-label-approved latter day Hendrix/Barrett/D.James amalgam. Consider that idea derailed with Letur-Lefr, his first official post-Chilis' solo release under his own name. For a five track EP of what Frusciante has called "progressive synth pop", with the exception of one track this is a record as bafflingly average as even the most generic Chili's track. What Frusciante has discovered here (and recorded way back in 2010) is a strain of acid pop electronica that's as mild and as unpleasantly odd as processed cheese. The opening track 'In Your Eyes' is awful, an opener that forces a listener to generate comparisons to a ghastly energy drink take on Yazoo with vocals by a man trapped on a vibrating weight-loss machine and simultaneously chewing tobacco and being exorcised. This is shit creek music. And your only paddle is a litre bottle of trucker's Tizer.
For the faithful, any resistance to this particular musical path will likely be put down to the rockist preference for fried-mind music played on a guitar rather than a Casio and sampler. This music may well be experimental for Frusciante but its just very conservative electronics with forgettable melodies for much of the rest of Western world. Another problem with the music here is that he's already shown himself very capable of working with electronics outside of the generics of rock and pop with the weirdo junkshop Fripp styles on A Sphere In The Heart Of Silence disc and the Speed Dealer Moms project with Aaron Funk. The place for Letur-Lefr's particular type of ordinary is the recycle bin. It's arguable whether using the Amen break in the way it's been used for the past quarter of a century is any more progressive than just doing another Chili Peppers record.
Letur-Lefr at times feels like Frusciante has discovered the brilliance of a Ceephax record and decided to research the methods, then make something that feels like a beginners 'anything goes and where's that kitchen sink?'. The joy of finding a new way of expressing yourself does not necessarily mean that others will automatically reciprocate that joy, or even interest.
As briefly alluded to earlier, there is a single chink of light in this arsecrack of darkness. The pre-release leak of the instrumental track 'Glowe' definitely helped boost expectations; a wise choice considering the brutal reality of the EP's other tracks. Even at a miniscule 1:28, 'Glowe' it's still a genuinely affecting piece of guitar noodlyness and an analogue warm chop-and-edit of breakbeats. Whether by chance or bizzaro conscious decision, Frusciante has made a track that sounds like someone ordered The JBs to do a super cute and funky take on the Bomb Squad's style. As if the rest of the EP wasn't duff enough, Letur-Lefr compounds its errors with poor vocal turns from the likes of Wu-Tang affiliate Kinetic 9. Amongst this aural garbage masquerading as lyricism there are Frusciante's own hit/miss vocals, snippets of the RZA giggling and even snatches of vocal samples from what sounds suspiciously like Humphrey Bogart and William Shatner. You couldn't make it up. And finally to add injury to insults, his ex-bandmate Flea has just dropped Helen Burns a pay-what-you-want EP thats soundscapes musically references Duke Ellington, The Flaming Lips and Jon Hassell with an overall sense of pastoral BoCness. Flea's guests? A couple of drummers, Patti Smith and Silverlake Conservatory children's and adult choir. It's pretty much everything that Letur-Lefr isn't – progressive and beautiful genre-mash music. Not that it's a competition or anything.