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John Frusciante
Maya Kareem Ghezawi , October 30th, 2020 09:12

Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist John Frusciante goes full on breakbeat science for his new solo album on Venetian Snares' Timesig label

John Frusciante’s penchant for jungle is nothing new. The birth pains of that lovechild are evident in 2012’s musical identity crisis PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone. The record was a battleground of fractured genres vying for possession of its soul, with Frusciante playing the role of shellshocked mediator between them. Yet out of the smorgasbord of ingredients thrown into the blender it was the breakbeats and samples that stitched up the patchwork and formed the binding motif. Track after track, their ferocious spontaneity was given brief windows to ventilate, just enough time for the listener to feel their force and power.

In Maya, those windows have been left permanently open and Frusciante’s recent disinterest in singing and songwriting has suppressed his natural artistic inclination to muddy the musical waters. Visually that is expressed in the record sleeve, in the name dipped in such clear water that its reflection is mirrored. There is no major encroaching deviation to challenge the listener, and as such Frusciante has given space for Maya to breathe, for the powerful breakbeats to push things forward to their full potential.

In contrast to the experimentalist flag flown proudly under his own name, Frusciante’s alias of Trickfinger operated under stricter creative parameters. In that project he focuses on the technical mastery of electronic music production as opposed to reacting to current trends or making tunes he wants to listen to. Maya, on the other hand, breaks free from both the self-imposed limitations of Trickfinger as well as the inherent urge to fuse genres so prominent under the music of his own name. In Maya there is an overwhelming vibe of letting go, both thematically, practically – and even spiritually.

The spiritual element derives from the nature of the record as a tribute to the death of his fifteen year-old cat Maya, who kept him company through his typically isolated music-making sessions. While it’s an undoubtedly sad turn of events, Frusciante has not allowed the record to turn into a eulogy but rather a celebration of life, movement and energy. Considering current racial tensions and the fact that nightclubs have been shut for over six months, it makes perfect sense that the record flirts with jungle as its primary muse, a genre itself born out of the lack of representation in dance music. Ravers the whole world over have been suppressing nervous twitches to realign their minds and bodies on the dancefloor and Maya offers the opportunity to do that, if not in a dedicated physical space then in a metaphysical discotheque of the mind.

The stirring keys and soulful samples that form the backbone of the first track is the only time the record gives the impression of a wistful tribute, the playfulness of Frusciante stopping things from getting too serious by chiming in with the sample “Give me a motherfucking break people”. The barebones blitz of kicks and snares on ‘Flying’ beat out stress like an aggressive Thai massage before leading to a loop of robotic samples whose buried humanity eventually reveals itself. The influence of Aaron Funk’s Timesig imprint leaks in here and there and shakes up the sequences. Like the breakbeats that wobble and roll back on themselves in ‘Pleasure Exploration’ or the erratic springiness of ‘Zillion’ that sounds like he’s trying to untangle a neon slinky. The highlight of the record though, has to be ‘Amethblowl’ with its UFO vibes that get spliced up by white noise before launching into a high octane drop of monstrous breaky dankness.

Frusciante gives the nostalgists a serving of the past to savour with Maya while at the same time modernising the golden-age jungle sound with IDM flourishes that reflect the uncertainty of the times. The fact that Frusciante is also in one of the greatest selling American rock bands of all time makes his acute understanding of a very British genre all the more compelling. Whether the record is a novelty, a brief reanimation of electronic music antiquity or the sign of a jungle resurgence, Maya cements Frusciante’s position as one of the most cosmopolitan and border-hopping musicians around today.