A fine brew of pellucid voices and retro electronic sounds
Puscifer is an American rock supergroup from Los Angeles led by Maynard James Keenan, lead vocalist of Tool and A Perfect Circle. Keenan’s creativity and playfulness are reflected throughout the album, and his employment of consonant and dissonant vocal and instrumental parts are enigmatic—in a good way. Carina Round and Mahsa Zargaran’s harmonious backing vocals are consequential in creating these resonant and dreamlike ambiences. These tracks are likely to be enjoyable for many casual listeners; this supergroup makes it easy to enjoy and appreciate their innovative contributions to music.
The tone of keyboards used in some tracks, particularly “Bread and Circus,” “Apocalyptical” and “Theorem,” are reminiscent of electronic music back in the ’50s, but the pulses and rhythms of the instruments are more or less in line with modern songwriting. Therefore, the listener would have less trouble tuning in to the abruptness, eeriness and directionlessness of a particular keyboard phrase. As previously mentioned, the band’s talent for vocal and instrumental harmonizations on this project is undeniable. Some dissonances may sound too alien, but the changes of harmony are subtle and many of these tensions do end up resolving nicely.
If one prefers songs that lean in a more riff-oriented direction, then “Apocalyptical” and “The Underwhelming” are the tracks for them. The riff in “The Underwhelming” is surprisingly similar to the one in “Apocalyptical.” Although “Fake Affront” is not riff-driven, it also contains a guitar lick similar to both of the aforementioned songs. It looks like Keenan loves a good musical through-line. In addition to the riffs, the incorporation of rhythmic non-lexical vocables and pauses makes the songs more catchy. It is almost as if Keenan was trying to compose experimental popular music, which is ironic considering a truly mainstream song is unlikely to approach the most intriguing corners of musical experimentation (AKA what Keenan is probably most interested in exploring). While he’s not the first artist to attempt this seemingly odd combination, his efforts are admirable and often effective.
“Personal Prometheus” is the longest track from the album, and has a relatively long intro. The tempo is very slow, yet the song is surprisingly not dull. The synth bass groove and subtle piano chords are fascinating, and the chorus has one of the most mesmerizing vocal harmonizations. “Postulous,” on the other hand, has a more upbeat tempo. The drum beats dominate and drive the track forward, while the background vocals and synths complement well with the drums.
While the songs in the first half of the album, particularly “Apocalyptical” and “The Underwhelming,” feel more engaging than the second half, the album is consistent throughout in terms of production, musicianship and compositional styles. One of this album’s greatest achievements is how it develops an increased approachability to retro-sounding musical elements. Since Puscifer is a side project of Keenan, who is the only permanent member of the band, every album, including this new one, is a creative work of art primarily reflecting Keenan’s distinct—and sometimes bizarre—musical ideas. It will be interesting to see what the next album sounds like, considering the difficult, yet frequent success of his continued attempts at experimental syntheses.