Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 1: The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, "Up On The Roof"

Artist: The Les Claypool Frog Bridage
Song: "Buzzards Of Green Hill"
Album: Purple Onion
Year: 2002

At a time when Primus were on an indefinite hiatus, and Oysterhead was long behind him, Les Claypool found himself without a band in early 2002. Looking to remedy this situation, Claypool pulled together some of the finest musicians in the land, and perhaps due to his recent work with the more "jam-oriented" Oysterhead, he and his band quickly became a fixture within the "jam band" scene. Though Primus was certainly known for their musical expertise, it was this later band, combined with Claypool's signature quirkiness that made them one of the most exciting and popular bands of the "Phishless" jam community. It was also with his new band, initially dubbed "Colonel Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade," where Claypool composed some of his finest post-Primus music, and it also represents some of the most complex and "complete" songs on his career. It is during his work with The Frog Brigade that one can hear the power and depth of his music finally catching up with his legendary songwriting, and the live performances of this era were unquestionably some of the most stunning of Claypool's career. Backed by one of the most impressive and talented bands of the day, the group released a pair of live records before unleashing their phenomenal studio debut, the absolutely magnificent 2002 album, Purple Onion, with the track, "Up On The Roof" displaying everything that made the band so fantastic.

From the moment that "Up On The Roof" begins, there is a sliding, slinky groove that runs throughout the entire song, and in many ways, it is this aspect of the music that makes it instantly identifiable as a work of Les Claypool.  It is the way that he moves all across his bass, seeming to make it bend in completely new ways that gives the song its distinct tone.  This is perfectly complimented by the rhythm second of drummer Jay Lane and percussionist Mike Dillon.  The way that they throw a wide range of tempos and instruments they bring lends the song a slightly quirky, yet somehow looming and dark feeling.  It is also from the work of the entire rhythm section that "Up On The Roof" gives the entire album an attitude and one can see a close connection to Primus within the song.  However, it is also the fuzzed-out guitar from Eenor, as he has his own sound and tone with the instrument.  Whether he is dropping a heavy rhythm part or ripping off a quick solo, the man shows an amazing chemistry with Claypool, giving the entire band their own sound.  Yet it is also the way that saxophone master, Skerik works in the mix, as the blurting and blaring of his instrument give "Up On The Roof" a texture unlike any other.  It is in the moments where he quickly passes the lead back and forth with Dillon where the song reaches its apex, and it is the sort of song that just gets better with each listen.

Along with the brilliant musical arrangement he created for "Up On The Roof," Les Claypool also brings his unquestionably distinctive voice to the song, and it is easily one of the finest performances of his entire career.  While his vocals here certainly fall into "standard fare" when compared to his work with his other bands, the fact remains that it is the odd tone with which he sings that serves as the ideal finishing touch to this track.  It is the strange combination of a sinister tone, yet somehow a grinning joy that one can hear which makes Claypool's sound so unique, and it has rarely been as perfectly deployed as one finds here.  Yet there is a sense of restraint that one can hear in his singing on "Up On The Roof," as the tension seems to build to a point and then plateau, allowing the music to become the primary element as the song crashes down with an amazing release.  But while his singing is certainly fantastic, the fact of the matter is that when writers look back on the music scene of the 1980's and 1990's, there is little doubt that one of the key names that will be brought up again and again will be that of Les Claypool. Without question, Claypool stands as the most innovative and musically fearless player of his generation, and there has simply never been another musician quite like him.  The lyrics he drops here are some of his best, as his ability to turn a phrase and create amazing lyrical wordplay is second to none, and "Up On The Roof" reveals more and more with each listening.

In an era when music was already disgustingly artificial and frustratingly tame and predictable, Les Claypool unleashed what may very well be his most musically exciting and innovative record of his career in the form of Purple Onion. Surrounded by some of the most talented musicians on the planet, the group tears through a dozen new Claypool compositions, and the songs never fail to be stunningly powerful in every aspect. The addition of the percussive expertise of Mike Dillon proves to be one of the key elements in Claypool taking his sound to "the next level," and it also provides a great deal of diversity in the styles that are presented throughout the record. With Eenor providing all the guitar mastery that Claypool could ever need, the chemistry between the two is clear, and they play off one another in brilliant fashion on every track.  Every song on the album has its own unique feel, and yet to experience each member at their peak, one need look no further than "Up On The Roof."  The unique chemistry shared by the group members is impossible to deny, as they almost take on a jazz feel with the way that the lead is passed around, each member taking it and finding their own path.  It is this "sum of its parts" reality that proves to be the magic behind Purple Onion, and few songs are as outright brilliant as The Les Claypool's Frog Brigade's 2002 track, "Up On The Roof."

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