Cast your mind back to a time when LSD was still legal. Rock bands were still a bit of a novelty and the mind was one of mankind’s final frontiers. There was a thin line between novel and novelty and plenty of swinging hipsters crowded into clubs round New York, San Francisco and London Town to discover what it was all about. Les Claypool and Sean Lennon are too young to have been part of that scene but they capture some of its spirit and spit on Monolith of Phobos, their first-ever collaborative journey to the center of psyche.

Syd Barrett seems a touchstone figure for the duo. The opening, titular track demonstrates this via Claypool’s half-whispered vocals and rumbling bass figures. Although those retain his harmonic DNA you can also hear him giving a sly nod to Roger Waters’ early bashings. The Bay Area native’s ability create those creepy, unsettling atmospheres marries well with Lennon’s mastery of the thin line between the avant garde and the Top 40. The two part “Cricket and the Genie” recalls the subversive, wordplay-laden hits of that bygone era while managing to cast its glance into the now where subversion, smart humor and imaginative wordplay are in critically low supply.

“Mr. Wright” is probably the catchiest song ever written about the neighborhood pervert and “Bubbles Burst” tells the story of Michael’s Jackson’s closest chimpanzee companion. “Ohmerica” and “Oxycontin Girl” are as smart as anything else here and plunge us into a world where neither disco nor grunge ever came to roost. The record places us in such a bubble that we come to believe that this is music coming out in the first weeks of 1968 rather than the middle of 2016.

Like many collaborations, the pair aren’t only capable of accentuating each other’s best tendencies, they’re also capable of tempering their worst. Lennon can stray into the deep forestation of the weird faster than most; Claypool can go for lowbrow with equal haste. Instead, they elevate each other, giving birth to something that allows each to rise to the level of real genius and deliver a record worthy of their considerable reputations.

Better still is that the record doesn’t give up all its secrets upon first or 15th listening. There’s a kind of aural theater that recalls the best work of post-psychedelic acts such as Hawkwind, Gong and the like, bands that gave the listener plenty to discover on each journey and were never satisfied with the easy way of music making.
It’s gratifying to have a record of this quality emerge from a collaboration that could have merely raised eyebrows but instead raises consciousness and the almighty bar for future acts. It’s hard to say whether these two will continue on this path but if they could harness these tendencies at least one more time we might very well have on our hands an act that could do the seemingly unthinkable and make rock ‘n’ roll a vibrant, throbbing and vital organism again.

Come along if you can.

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