CD Reviews

Fantômas - 'Suspended Animation' (landmark album review) Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     April 20, 2017    
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The thirty songs featured in the span of forty-five minutes keep you on edge and spinning endlessly.

This is a Rocktopia™ landmark review (album review no. 4987, pls. click HERE for more information)

It is nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share a review of a personal favorite in celebration of Rocktopia reaching the 5000 reviews landmark. Although there were many in the running for consideration, my decision was to feature an album that would fall outside of many (if not all) readers of the magazine and website. With that in mind, it is with hope that this selection will a) stimulate the interest of the curious and b) unbridle any of those who are complacent with the popular and predictable song-writing formula.

After Faith No More disbanded following 'Album Of The Year' in 1997 and Mr. Bungle's 1999's swan song 'California', front-man and ringleader Mike Patton had begun to shift his focus into the realm of experimental and extreme music. Although his outings with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle featured a wealth of left-of-center moments (the latter comprising an entire album of cacophonous/discordant streams of consciousness with 'Disco Volante'), it was nothing like what he set out to accomplish with Fantomas and later with his work with John Zorn.

Clearly inspired by the avant-garde music scene found in and around SoHo (a legendary section of New York City known for its progressive art) and Zorn himself (who is even credited as producer on the 1990 self-titled Mr. Bungle album), Patton decided his initial muse post-FNM and Bungle would be modeled after Zorn's 'Naked City', an album consisting of a series of "hardcore miniatures" combining intensity, short song forms (most only lasting one minute or less) and lightning fast transitions spanning a multitude of genres all within a single track! Fantomas' debut featured a similar format, with each track representing the soundtrack for a single page from a comic book based on the French anti-hero, Fantomas. If able to comprehend (and enjoy) that stylistic approach, it was just a warm-up for what was to come in 2005 with 'Suspended Animation'.

Stylistically speaking, it falls somewhere between the intensity of Zorn's 'Naked City' and the surreal compositions by Carl Stalling, the person singlehandedly responsible for composing, scoring and conducting most of the music for Looney Tunes animations back in the fifties. Knowledge of these two disparate, yet extreme, forays into 20th century music will afford an insight when assessing the beauty and absurdity that is 'Suspended Animation.' Like the Fantomas debut, where each track corresponds to a page in a book, each composition on 'Suspended Animation' is a sonic representation of lesser known holidays (somewhere in the world) for that particular day in April. Combining the same mind-numbing song forms (no theme repeats for more than ten-fifteen seconds) and samples galore (of which can easily be identified with those familiar with Looney Tunes animations), the thirty songs featured in the span of forty-five minutes keep you on edge and spinning endlessly.

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Each song passes with such explosive force that the song often finishes before it is comprehended. Although each track only pertains to a single day in the month of April, the density and intricacies contain within each track can easily require an entire month (or more) to dissect. The musical and rhythmic complexity of the compositions require the most astute execution with regard to musicianship and Patton does not fail to recruit the best. His all-star cast includes King Buzzo (Melvins) on guitar and vocals, Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, John Zorn) on bass and Dave Lombardo (Slayer) on drums with Patton himself contributing vocal musings as well as composing the maniacal songs featured throughout.

For those lucky enough, the original (and limited edition) pressing of the CD came in the form of a miniature, spiral-bound calendar that featured artwork by famed Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. The opening track celebrates the ubiquitously recognized 'April Fools Day' but quickly ventures into the obscure by celebrating the lesser known 'Festival Of The Sweeping Of The Tombs' (China) and 'National Scoop The Poop Day' (USA). Regardless of the holiday on feature, 'Suspended Animation' does not stop, stall or whimper to give things a second thought. For those unfamiliar with the more experimental side of Faith No More, the eccentricities of Mr. Bungle and the downright slaying by Zorn's 'Naked City', 'Suspended Animation' is a rather lighthearted and humorous affair while being equally hectic and unsettling. Fantomas is quite the vehicle for Patton which has also birthed 'Delirium Cordia', an ambient album (of sorts) that is supposed to represent various invasive surgeries and 'The Director's Cut' containing an inventive re-working of mostly obscure movie theme music. If unable to grasp the genius that is 'Suspended Animation', 'The Director's Cut' is the most accessible album of the Fantomas catalogue (along with the accompanying DVD which features those same interpretations in a live setting).

For what it is, 'Suspended Animation' is the band's magnum opus and cannot fathom what they could serve up in the future to challenge this remarkable musical statement (but would certainly be more than excited with news of another release). The effort involved making all the layers and uneven themes coalesce into something cohesive is nothing short of enviable. Just how Patton created such dense, intricate and manic music is anyone's guess. However, it can certainly be argued that 'Suspended Animation' is a natural progression set in motion by the zany music composed by Stalling whose legend continues to shine brightly on a large majority of those classic and timeless Looney Tunes cartoons.

Brent Rusche

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