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Goodbye Sobriety - 93%

psychoticnicholai, July 30th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Warner Bros. Records

Mr. Bungle changes their style yet again. This time around they’ve done what is probably the most unexpected thing for an avant-garde, “we do anything we please” sort of rock band to do, they went pop. That isn’t to say that this is album is simplistic, plastic, or blasé. In fact, Mr. Bungle apply the wackiness and freeform attitude of Disco Volante to a pop sound, but the framework, character, and structure of the album is largely experimental. Expect to hear many warped sounds and odd quirks popping out from the familiar sounds of sunny, coastal retro-pop this thing runs with. It’s a pleasant album that’s much smarter and crazier than its considerable softening would suggest just like Disco Volante. By retro-pop, I mean this thing draws a lot on surf-rock, doo-wop, swing, traditional vocal pop and other old styles with a strong beachy and “West Coast” feeling to them that’s very warm and playful. Even with this being said, there are moments of sweet, sweet chaos that make Mr. Bungle’s California into a spectacle, along with a fine attention to detail and a militant crazy streak.

Instrument wise, the guitar plays a decidedly secondary role on here, with synth keys and woodwind instruments making up most of the instrumental backing and filling out most of the sound. A veritable orchestra of guest performers also chime in to give this album all the special sounds it needs to pull off the old school “classy pop” sound with horns and violins being brought in, as well as some more odd choices like accordions and steel guitars that give the album some more spice. It gives the music on here a sweeping quality to it and a lot of layers which gives Mr. Bungle even more opportunities to build up something grand and then freak the hell out of you. There are songs on here that are largely clean, charismatic, and conventional like “Retrovertigo” and “Pink Cigarette” where Mike Patton’s oldies crooner voice is the focus and very few strange things happen. This may sound boring on paper, but they have depth and melody to them that makes them attractive and memorable. They also provide a juxtaposition to the passages where sanity flies out the window, fun becomes paramount, and that old clown Mr. Bungle gets back up to his old tricks again.

The signature wackiness of Mr. Bungle is still here and in force. The drumming will get chaotic, Patton’s croon will turn into a hyperactive yap, and timbres and tones will shift with the genre at a moment’s notice. It does all of this in a way that’s still fun and holds together very smoothly as Mr. Bungle have had a track record of doing so. This insanity makes for some great moments of fast-moving fun like on “Ars Moriendi” where everything is so spasmatic, old-timey, and danceable you could picture everybody busting a move Cossack-style and gaining speed with the rhythm. Even some of the slower pieces have strange vocal melodies that go between goofy “mm-bop’s” and haunting moans from Patton, as well as shifts in tone from calm to sour to funky from Spruance, and tempo jolts from the unsung hero of this band drummer and synth player Danny Heifetz. One minute you’ll be hearing a pleasant doo-wop tune and the next you’ll get a sudden break of electronic noise or funky synth lines that just make you want to spaz out. This atmosphere of uncertainty peppers the album throughout and is epitomized by “Goodbye Sober Day” which starts off very easy-going and only slightly off-kilter, only for it to go through some changes in style until everything goes batshit with the manic war chant of “CHAKA-CHAKA-CHAKA” with stomping drums and heavy guitars backing up the madness. It’s an exciting climax that makes you want to trudge around like a maniac. It’s also a perfect closer for an album as a fitting sendoff for Bungle’s musical diversity and aural depravity.

Mr. Bungle’s third album sees the band off with a wink and a laugh, while allowing the band to go mad over oldies pop in a respectful and classy, yet insane and mocking way. It shows off some of Mr. Bungle’s most reserved, yet also most elegant musical moments with Heifetz and Patton bringing the best of their game to this with the former’s drums and the latter’s more mature vocals, along with a plethora of sunny and easy-going sounds from all the other instruments involved. It’s an interesting experience that has plenty to go back for and makes pop complex, experimental, and intriguing the way only Mr. Bungle could. It’s a solid album with a ton of variety and well-crafted songs to boot that’s surprisingly deep and memorable. In my eyes, the softening didn’t put a dent in their sound at all, it gave them more opportunity to grow. California is well worth the listen.

Not quite metal, but still a masterpiece - 100%

Primate, January 7th, 2018

1998 was a year of change for Mike Patton. The world famous band he had fronted for a decade, Faith No More, had been put to sleep, presumably due to a lack of interest and declining commercial fortunes. A more abrasive Patton project titled Fantomas also popped up that same year, playing a few gigs. But at the end of 98, Patton knew it was time to return to his original stomping ground of Mr. Bungle, a group which had been completely inactive since 1996 and the completion of the Disco Volante tour.

Bungle's third major label record California — recorded during late 1998 in San Francisco — has a far greater focus on melody, at times making it reminiscent of Faith No More (especially on the soaring ballad "Retrovertigo"). One could speculate this was due to pressure from their label Warner Bros. Records, which is known more as a home for über mainstream pop musicians rather than avant-garde or metal music. But even if this was the case, it doesn't take away from the fact that the attention towards melody was a brilliant idea for the band.

When released in the middle of 1999, it got embroiled in controversy, as funk metal turned top 40 pop band The Red Hot Chili Peppers (another Warner Bros. artist) had recorded a similarly titled album that was due for release on the same day as California. This indiscretion would set off a chain of events relating to RHCP and Bungle that ended up leaving MB's careers in ruin by the start of the new millennium. This is unfortunate, since I would have killed to hear more of this type of music.

As previously mentioned, melody is the focal point, however it would be incorrect to say this still isn't an experimental rock record. The sheer array of influences (ie doo wop on "Vanity Fair", ambient on "The Holy Filament", synthfunk on "Golem II" and swing revival on "Sweet Charity") make it like the ADHD plagued little brother of pop music.

As far as metal goes, there isn't much of it here. "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare" has a few spastic thrash metal bursts and "Goodbye Sober Day" goes batshit crazy towards the end, but that's about it. Still, as other reviews might indicate, this doesn't mean California cannot be enjoyed by the most ardent of metalheads.

Mike Patton's vocals are at their absolute peak here. The evolution from nasally teen on The Real Thing to 50s style crooner is complete with this album. I've always suspected there was autotune on Patton's previous Faith No More outing Album of the Year (released around the same time as the software), yet California was supposedly recorded analog and without any digital assistance, making the odds of pitch correction being used unlikely.

If you are an unconventional metalhead, an avant-rocker, an old school pop fan or a fangirl who loves the croon-ier side of Patton, then this 1999 masterpiece is most certainly recommended.

Life-changing - 100%

Dungeon_Vic, January 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Warner Bros. Records

Ah, Mr. Bungle's California! This is a very special album to me, as I consider it one of the key albums that unlocked my brain and ears to open to any kind of music, and I do mean *any* kind of music. In the same song.

Raised up with two older brothers into metal, Mr Bungle was simply a lyrics reference in Sacred Reich's 31 Flavors ("Mr. Bungle is so very cool"), which was a reference to their self-titled debut. I would then be exposed to Mike Patton through Faith No More, as The Real Thing was a favourite in the household, when it came out. However, Mr Bungle remained a simple reference in a weird track on a thrash metal album (fitting, in retrospect) and a side project of Mike Patton.

At one point I did listen to Squeeze Me Macaroni, which I thought was brilliant and catchy, like Red Hot Chili Peppers on drugs jamming with Mike Patton but never came across anything else, until 2001, when a good friend of mine got hooked on California and had to share with me.

The impact upon listening to Ars Moriendi is not easy to describe. I've had heard music like that before, from Zappa or elsewhere, but never so incredibly catchy and fun. It was impossible to fathom that I would listen to something resembling balkan hip-hop meets metal meets gypsy folk meets techno meets whatever else is contained in those 4 minutes of madness, in one song AND with a coherent structure AND by being so damn enjoyable. I was hooked right then and there.

The rest of the album lived up to the expectations. Simply put, I find no fillers on this album, on the contrary I find every song an individual music trip served with class, courtesy of the brilliant musicianship of the entire band and Mike Patton's stellar performance.

Mike Patton... I am a huge fan of the man, not only as an amazing and incredibly diverse singer but also as a musician. The aforementioned Ars Moriendi is a song written by him, as is the majority of the album (he has songwriting credits in 7 out of 10 songs). This album I consider to be his magnum opus as a musician, rating his work here even above Faith No More, of whom I am a huge fan.

However, it would be hugely unfair to the rest of the band to be overlooked because of Patton. Trevor Dunn, an incredible bassist in his own right, is the author of Retrovertigo, which is certainly among the top moments of the album, a beautiful eerie song that climaxes to a huge theatrical ending, greatly supported by the fine work done in the production department. Trey Spruance, also known for his guitar work in Faith No More's King... album, co-writes with Patton another favourite off the album, Pink Cigarette. A really beautiful ballad, with Mike's voice being so smooth and emotional it could crack a diamond, the song incorporates elements from 60s Italian ballads, country music yodeling (just a simple phrase but it works wonders in the end). A definite highlight.

...as is the aptly named Goodbye Sober Day, which closes the album, a song equally crazy with Ars Moriendi, it delivers an adventurous, fun trip to various music styles from the most weird places, mixes them up together and still manages to sound coherent.

I believe this to be Mr Bungle's best album. Of course it cannot hold the innovative weight and impact of the debut, nor can it claim any larger ambition and scope than Disco Volante. However, it manages in my opinion, to gather the elements of both those albums and add catchiness and flow, which is a monumental task considering the sheer amount of musical styles presented in each song.

I've often read that this album is more commercial and accessible than the other two, often with a hint of disappointment, citing a preference for the more experimental side of the first two (especially Disco Volante). While it is certainly true that this albums IS more accessible (commercial would be a stretch in my opinion), this only highlights the feat accomplished by the band. Because the album is equally complex in the making and structure as any of the previous works, yet it still manages to maintain the listener within its grip. Disco Volante is a much more difficult album to follow and to this reviewer, that is not a compliment. Don't get me wrong, I truly love Disco Volante (Desert Search for Techno Allah is among the band's best songs ever) and it is a fine music trip, once you get past the initial difficulties. But it still is an album for certain days and moods, an album that I would more often than not pick only a few songs to listen to at the time.

California is an album that I would listen to in its entirety, starting with the sweet hawaiian ambience of its opener to the madness of its closing track. Always a pleasure.

Masterpiece. It is not a metal album by a longshot of course, metal is only one of the dozens of genres you can hear in it. But for a fan of music and not just one branch of music, this is, as I say, a masterpiece.

Originally published on www.metalmusicarchives.com

Goodbye Sober Day, Hello Milky Way - 100%

enshrinedtemple, December 12th, 2015

Mr. Bungle, a band that is known for its genre hopping mayhem and stylistic shifts. Nothing is off limits when you listen the band and they are off the wall crazy. Their third and final full length album California takes from a wide array of different styles but actually turned down the craziness and unpredictability from their previous two albums. It is possible that they grew as musicians and matured. In the beginning the songs would range from death metal to jazz and funk. Those styles would change throughout not only their first two albums but also each individual song. California tones the dramatic stylistic shifts down and the result is a more digestible and mainstream album that still screams Mr. Bungle!

It takes a lot to explain Mr. Bungles sound and give it the justice it deserves. California is however their most accessible and would be a recommended place to start for new fans. There are pop and mainstream influences but there is also the typical metal, jazz, Middle Eastern and genre hopping mayhem. For Mr. Bungle, this is a release is their most structured and concise and the bat shit crazy had been reduced a great number. Listening to a song like Pink Cigarette and Retrovertigo is surprising because they are catchy pop songs but yet they have that Bungle flavor. So musical style is a key element to the listening experience, because the songs are so diverse, but the diversity is not intentionally sloppy like on Bungle’s previous albums.

For those wondering what makes the album so special and unique is easily summed up by mentioning two names. Bass extraordinaire Trevor Dunn and mad man Mike Patton. Those two names are essential to Bungle's sound. Patton is the most diverse singer on the planet and he is able to scream and sing in different styles without blinking an eye. He has many tools to use in the vocal department and he is also skilled at enhancing music through using different effects with keyboards. Trevor Dunn is one of those bassists that can fit with any style of music. He shines on anything Bungle related. At this point Danny and Trey are the icing on the cake. The band is very tight and much less free form on California without sacrificing creativity. To add dimensions and elements, the band hired quite a list of guest musicians to play a vast list of additional instruments. California is just overall a more ambitious and serious album from start to finish.

The album as a whole has very little flaw. Every song delivers a Bungle punch to your ears. There is more structure to the songs but yet tons of variety between them. Songs like Sweet Charity and Air Conditioned Nightmare literally sound like they are a legitimate surf rock band while Retrovertigo sounds like an alternative rock song that could be on the radio. California is an original piece of work and a cornucopia of musical excellence!

Goodbye Sober Day is the monumental closer and perfect way to finalize an album. If there is one song that hardens back to their older days, then this is it. It is absolute craziness. The album just swirls it's way to end leaving the listener in a complete disarray. Trying to put this song into words is really doing it an injustice, it is much better to experience. Goodbye Sober Day is the definitive Bungle song and a definite highlight of California.

Overall, California is an absolute memorable masterpiece. It sounds like the Beach Boys had a terrible drug experience and did their best to make an album out of it. Describing its brilliance is tough to do because the music is so different and unconventional. Sadly, Mr. Bungle would be no more after California but the magic of the album would last. They went out on top of their game and perhaps they didn't feel like they could top the album. The actual reason why they called it quits is still in question, but I choose to believe that they created a beast so large that they could not overcome the sheer magnificence of California.

A genius album from the masterminds of Mr Bungle - 95%

Mrkoiking, December 6th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1999, CD, Warner Bros. Records

If you've been drawn to Mr Bungle after hearing they are a metal band, I must warn you that this album is not the crazy, wacky, all over the place metal that Mr Bungle is known for. Although there are several metal sections in this album, it is by no means a metal record. There is more jazz than metal here. If you're looking for something heavy or abrasive, try something else. However, if you're looking for brilliant songwriting, beautiful melodies, interesting experimentation, and lyrics filled to the brim with genius, then this is a must listen. This brilliant record fuses rock, jazz, lounge, folk, and a variety of other genres, all held together with lashings of avant-garde flares and amazing voice of Mike Patton. Though it experiments a lot, unlike the previous Mr Bungle albums, California experiments in a much more subtle manner, choosing emotion over insanity.

Tracks such as Retrovertigo, and Pink Cigarette, consist of slow, powerful, and emotional melodies, that will stay in your head for days. The impressively well done mix of guitar, piano, keyboards, violins and percussion produce a very powerful, hard hitting sound. The vocal performance from Patton on these tracks is, as always, superb, his voice and lyrics will make you sing along for sure. Tracks such as None of Them Knew They Were Robots, Golem II, and Vanity Fair are much more up beat, and use good use of many instruments and musical styles. Vanity Fair in particular is a great example of how to produce a strange, experimental song without lacking in songwriting or being catchy, which I think some bands fail to accomplish. The more up-beat tracks on this record are where you find the hidden nuggets of anger and metal, such as the opening to None of Them Knew They Were Robots.

The vocals and lyrics in California are absolutely genius, telling stories, exploring horror and science fiction themes and discussing issues without being too obvious or cheesy. For example, the lyrics of Pink Cigarette tell the story of a man who's wife has left him, and in his sadness, commits suicide. The lyrics here really look into his thoughts and actions, and seriously make you think. Mike Patton delivers top notch singing like usual, showing off his vocal range. Mostly consisting of amazing singing, he also flaunts his ability to perform harsh shouting and screaming as well as soft and gentle whispers, all of this ranging from low, deep bellows to high pitched wails.

Musically, this album is also superb. Each moment carefully crafted to produce the best sound possible. It always sounds complex and layered, without feeling too busy and crowded. At times there are dozens of instruments all working together to build breathtaking pieces of music that stimulate your senses. It sounds as though this album was created by an entire orchestra of geniuses. The song writing is amazing, carefully wrote with a ton of soul and emotion. There is not a single bad song on this album. The drums and percussion are great, laying down a steady and effective beat whilst accenting the right parts of the music. Although not overly complex, it feels full and precise. The keyboards produce powerful melodies that make the songs seem full and strong. Everything here fits together perfectly. Nothing feels out of place and nothing feels missing.

Overall, this album is superb. It melds a lot of genres and styles without sounding like it's misplaced or confused. Mr Bungle really knew what they were doing here, and it's clear that they worked painstakingly on this album. From the awesome vocals and the amazing songwriting, to the ingenious experimentation and superb musical skill showcased on this album, California has it all. It's the most accessible album from Mr Bungle, but that certainly does not mean it is simple and boring. California is truly a masterpiece.

....and made soup of your bones... - 95%

TheSunOfNothing, March 10th, 2009

I'll start this out by saying I don't do drugs, smoke, drink, or any stupid shit like that. I don't want it, and I don't plan on ever wanting it. It's very ironic then, to think that one of my favourite albums of all time was probably recorded by a bunch of men high on LSD.

The first track on the cd, "Sweet Charity", starts the album on a creepy, soft note. It's easy to picture Master Patton singing in the rain, dressed in a suit with a cigar and a top hat. It sounds like a mixture of easy listening and jazz, therefore meaning it's really soft and is extremly coherant (unlike any of the band's material up to this point). The previous insanity is only barely hinted in the chorus. Other songs like "None Of Them Knew They Were Robots" and "Ars Moriendi", are more like what one would expect, they feature extreme genre changes. We also have "Pink Cigarette", which seems to be in more of waltz/jazz territory, with Patton's voice alternating between a low baritone voice and a high pitch falsetto one. There is one big suprise here, and that is "Retrovertigo", which is literally the only normal song Mr. Bungle ever recorded. It's the only one that sounds like it could get anywhere near a radio, and had the band released it as a single, this album and this band would be much more popular.

Patton alternates between high pitched falsetto singing and low baritone vocals, and very rarely screams (something the band employed into the majority of their early material) and also doesn't rap a single line on the whole cd. All the genre's the band previously attempted, most notably funk, are gone (exept for Death metal, which appears in a handful of songs), instead replaced with jazz and pop and basically anything soft. There are still heavy moments, but they're in small numbers, unlike the first albums which would typically have songs that featured metal as their main focus. I'd say I can see "Golem II" being on "Disco Volante", as it reminds me of a more serious version of "The Desert Search For Techno Allah", and I can see "None Of Them Knew They Were Robots" fitting on the debut, as it's one of the noiser songs (with all the samples and with the genre changing every 10 seconds), and it features Patton at his most diverse, as part of the song contains death growls and high pitched screaming.

I personally think this album is amazing. There is not a single thing about it that is negative, STRONGLY SUGGESTED.

This is AWESOME! - 90%

FishyMonkey, February 21st, 2007

You know when 95% percent of the people who hear an album hate it within a minute, something interesting is going on.

Mike Patton is no stranger to strange, and he's no stranger to hatred. Frontman behind Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Fantomas, Peeping Tom, and a bunch more...just look at this list, Patton has consistantly come out with unique, pretty awesome music. People will debate me on just the "awesome" part, I'm sure. With Patton, you either get it or you don't. Some people will never like this, and that's cool. Some people will be moderately intrigued at first, and slowly learn to love it. I think that's where I fall. No one loves it immediately, at least that's what I believe. If you don't like this album at first, give it one more try of good listening, and throw away any preconceived notions of what you are going to hear. Just take it in.

Anyway, before this album, Bungle was noisy. Really fucking noisy. I can hardly listen to Disco Volante, I still haven't managed to wrap my head around that album. Their s/t was considerably more focused for the most part, and stayed as an avantgarde funk-rock album. With this album, Patton has cut down on the noise considerably on gone for a sort of...1950s California sound. Exactly what you might gather from the cover. From the opener, Sweet Charity with its slow-moving soft and sweet sounds throughout reminding you of a chill evening on a beach with just a drink and a chair, or Vanity Fair sounding like a nice fifties five-piece acappella tune, this is a slow-moving, fairly chill fifties sounding album. The only song the retains Bungle's true randomness is Goodbye Sober Day. I mean, all the songs are random, but in a way fitting of the album.

Patton's vocals are spot-on. The man has a frighteningly versatile voice, no matter what he does, he fills the spot perfectly. Vanity Fair is particulary incredible for the range and clarity of high notes. Thge man can also shift vocal personas almost instantly and convincingly. Overall, this vocal performance is one of the best I've heard since Pain of Salvation's Remedy Lane, or pretty much any Devin Townsend album, but in a completely different way. This is all about personalities, different shoes to fill all in the same song. I think Ars Moriendi shows this very well...man, he switches like eighteen times, from a retard to a very angry man, to a French asshole...jees. The drummer also deserves props. On an album as versatile and strange as this, the drummer always creates grooves perfectly fitting the style of the song. Not easy to do, considering the kind of songs on this album.

Standout tracks include the finale Goodbye Sober Day, reverting to traditional Bungle mayhem, Pink Cigarette for it's convincing Motown gloom, interesting lyrics and great vocal performance, and Retrovertigo, showing how Patton can create accessible and ear-pleasing music just as well as anyone else. Vanity Fair too, for it's crazy vocal performance. But hell, all the tracks are good in their own way. The only track I'd mark as flawed is The Holy Filament. Interesting chord changes, but it drags too long.

This isn't an album I can pop in any time, but it certainly is one I revisit often, in nice intervals. It hasn't gotten old yet.

slow-moving deceptive chaos - 93%

crazpete, September 25th, 2004

Mr Bungle is often characterized as unclassifiable. They make music of an incredible range of styles that cannot be grouped into any genre; one second they are playing a riff that sounds like a 50’s band playing classical music and the next sounds like an orchestra of toy zylophones playing atonal death metal. ‘Disco Volante’ would be the clearest example of their transitive chaotic casserole of styles, heavily influenced by the work of avant-garde composer John Zorn. California is quite different, and if it had to be said that it was influenced by another composer/arranger, it would certainly be Brian Wilson.

California is hideously deceptive on many levels. A casual listen to the beginning of most of the tracks here will call to mind a tribute to the Beach Boys, complete with harmonized vocals, lazy surf tremolo guitar lines, and an overall sense of glimmering pop. Mr Bungle pays careful attention to crafting songs of a much tighter sense of theme and timberal color, as riff after riff moves from a 50’s surf-pop ballad to anywhere else imaginable, like a perverse musical version of ‘6 degrees to Brian Wilson’.

Technical mastery of musical instruments, as on their last album, is displayed again and again. Guitar, bass, keyboard, and percussion all move with a mostly subtle mastery of their instruments though a dense fog of musical styles, each orchestrated with amazing complexity and perfect attention to tone and detail. Mancini-esque pop orchestral numbers mesh with moog-funk only to stumble into patches of 80’s thrash riffage, finally ending in dense forests of droning middle-eastern Sufi chants. Less haphazard and intense as the stylistic changes on their previous album, California lulls the listener into a sense of style only to have massively altered it without one noticing like a musical magician of the most cracked-out yet deceptive variety. Mike Patton’s ridiculously wide range of vocal output must be given some credit as an instument as well; as his voice can be shaped into endless varieties. Lush smarmy emoting from the depths of his diaphram can be juxtaposed with sharp atonal hiccups of throaty percussion that are familiar to fans of his vocal work with Fantomas.

Ars Moriendi, the fifth track here, is the most intense riff-heavy style-changing chaotic beast of aural insanity; seemingly showing the fans of Bungle’s insane musical chaos that they could have easily produced a towering behemoth of ridiculously aggressive style-rape, but instead have opted to meander in the realms of an almost languid musical madness. If the whole album were like this song, no musician of any level could doubt this band’s egregious power.

Production on this work should be noted as far beyond simply ‘making the bad sound clear’. While clarity is present in spades, this is also deceptive. Each riff has its own production; giving space and feeling to each section of song so that some parts are almost lo-fi with grit and peaking mics, with others softly covered in fine layers of reverb. This is in fact the last major studio album (mostly through Warner Brothers) to be completely analog. Tone is a huge component of the album, and fans of high-brow recording techniques will revel in the richness present on this master. In a sense, this album is more an experiment in recording, mastering, and song craft than it is in technicality, chaos, or intensity that endear Mr. Bungle to the ears of metalheads.

This album is amazing, and it is the work of genius. However, it is much harder for the intelligent metalhead seeking out ‘insane music of a non-metal variety’ to appreciate than Disco Volante. Try that first, and if you do love it; give California a few chances. By the fifth or sixth time hearing it, you may notice you are a huge fan.