By Bill Adams
At what point is it safe to call a project which was once regarded as a silly sidebar operation a serious new endeavor that deserves serious attention? Such is exactly the question that Tool/ A Perfect Circle/ Puscifer fans will be asking themselves when they hear Conditions of My Parole, the newest, most creatively forthright and most well-rounded album by Maynard James Keenan‘s Puscifer project.
Founded in 2007 as Keenan’s release valve away from Tool and A Perfect Circle, Puscifer’s first release (“V” Is For Vagina) was deliberately silly and off-putting (scan song titles like “Vagina Mine,” “Momma Sed” and “Drunk With Power” for an idea) and embodied a more electronic feel which was pretty far from the alt-rock rampage of APC and even further from Tool’s aggressive-progressive and generally humorless tendencies. On a comparative scale, Puscifer was almost a joke and the stylistic differences inherent to the music got listeners to notice Puscifer – but “Conditions of My Parole” is something else again; this time, the garrish electronics has been reigned in tightly and more real time instruments have stepped to the foreground to produce a more epic, singer-songwriter-ly bent than any of Keenan’s projects have ever been given to employing before.
Listeners will be stunned as “Tiny Monsters” fades in with an almost Bjork-ian, hymnal grace to open Conditions of My Parole, but they’ll be absolutely floored when they discover that there are no bad jokes masquerading as hooks in the song, no cheesy beats and no poppy badness anywhere. Here, Keenan sings softly and with heart, and it’s really, really easy to love; for other artists such gentility might be considered de rigeur, but other artists aren’t Maynard James Keenan, who has built a career upon being dark, mystical and complicated. This start is pure and beautiful, and the plot gets even deeper as “The Green Valley” seeps in to follow up and offers some dry-eyed and perfectly rockist instrumentation. After that, if listeners aren’t already excited, they’ll be well on their way to that conclusion; the voice and demeanor presented here are something Keenan has never expressed before but, like a monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, it feels perfectly natural and serene.
The spell will be set and cast when “Monsoons” works its way in and up to speed with beats that sound as though they could easily have been produced by Matmos, a fantastic cello performance (played by Devo Keenan) and very, very tastefully appointed guitar, bass and piano parts. This is huge; normally, when Keenan has constructed such a beautiful backdrop before, it has been to contrast elegiac and sorrowful moods but, here, the result is the opposite – listeners will feel uplifted by the timbres. This uplifting air continues in the beautiful structures and craftsmanship of songs like “Horizons,” the title track, “The Weaver” and”Tumbleweed” and presents a completely foreign (but certainly not unwelcome) impression of Maynard James Keenan; he is an auteur here, not just a singer. Of course, the transition that Keenan has undertaken on “Conditions of My Parole” cannot be complete here and the singer does dutifully backslide into far more aggressive forms throughout the runtime of the album. Tracks like “Telling Ghosts,” “Man Overboard” and “Toma” all express some destructive desires throughout this album, but they also come off as willfully overblown as if to concede some time for old fans and end up seeming inconsequential and don’t disrupt the vibes set by their lighter counterparts here.
After so many years of the same old angry show, it can only be said that Conditions of My Parole is a fantastic breath of fresh air for those fans of Maynard James Keenan’s myriad musical projects who had (rightly) begun to think he had no other side to him. This album proves that is clearly not the case. While there are certainly fans who get a kick out of the “I’m angry again” shtick, the rest will be happy to find that this singer is capable of other things.
Bill Adams is the editor-in-chief of groundcontrolmag.com