French composer, arranger and musician Jean-Claude Vannier joins together with Mike Patton and his inimitable vocal capabilities on new album Corpse Flower – the experience of listening to which is a little like watching a slow-burn horror movie (also reflective of the album’s release date: Friday the 13th of September).
The album begins with Ballade C.3.3, whose lyrics are drawn from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol (originally published under the name C.3.3., a reference to Wilde’s former ‘address’ in the titular penitentiary of cell block C, landing 3, cell 3). A meandering, sliding guitar and Patton’s mellow tone is suddenly countered by the introduction of electronic drums; instruments rise and fall to accentuate Patton’s canny phrasing and lyrics. A thoroughly considered opener, we’re made immediately aware of Vannier’s considerable talent.
On Cold Sun, Warm Beer, the two subjects’ (sun and beer) unusual juxtaposition with their expected qualities (cold and warm) reflects the way song’s flow; it begins with a fractured instrumental, eventually incorporating Patton’s raspy delivery. The piano and guitars’ minor tones creep with a taunting misfortune, and things take an even freakier turn when layers of child-like backing vocals, presumably Patton’s, are added to the mix. The arrangement gets heavier and more ominous as a laidback beat is introduced, signalling some sort of impending doom. Towards its conclusion, Patton entreats “Let me see you dance,” as menacing piano chords enter out of nowhere and backing vocals are isolated in the left ear for maximum creepiness.
Other stand-out A Schoolgirls’ Day lures us in with alternative percussion and Patton’s falsetto vocals winding up and down, telling us the tale of a girl’s daily routine from the perspective of an omniscient third party. This observer points out seemingly mundane details (“she brushes her hair with a brush, and combs it with a comb”) and then pauses, as if waiting for the girl’s next movement. A whining, metallic guitar surfaces as the girl continues her day; she has dinner with her family, puts things back into their rightful places, and then begins to pack up her belongings. As strings begin to shrill in the background, events take a sinister turn, and a doorbell rings.
A beautifully-wrought, foreboding and meticulous album, Corpse Flower is a totally engrossing listen and an enormous achievement from these two titans of creativity.
Corpse Flower by Mike Patton and Jean-Paul Vannier is out September 13 via Ipecac.
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