A Token of My Extreme: Mr. Bungle- Disco Volante (1995)
Warner Brothers; October 10, 1995
All Mr. Bungle albums are equally weird, but as the Orwell adage goes, some are more equal than others. Their final release was a tasty, full-bodied melange of sunny Brian Wilson pop, swing, lounge, bossanova, techno, klezmer, Gamelan chanting and New Age; and their debut was a maniacal, fucked up, dirty cocktail of funk, ska, metal, calliope, rap, dub and clown makeup.
Between those two poles, both chronologically and in a musical sense, lies Disco Volante--the kitchen sink. Not as catchy, well-composed and accessible (yet still goddamn strange) as the former, and not quite as twisted, explicit and menacing as the latter... but it makes up for it by being perhaps the most daringly noncommercial and eclectic album I've heard from a major label in the last two decades.
Consider the opening track, the cheerily titled "Everyone I Know From High School Is Dead." Resident mad scientist/master vocalist/sexy beast Mike Patton's vocals are a heavily echoed series of chants, while guitarist Trey Spruance lays down some Melvins-esque sludge which is punctuated by loud bursts of shrieky feedback and manic laughter. There is no chorus, no real riffs, barely any structure really.
This is probably the closest thing to a "normal" song you will get on the album.
Then Mr. Bungle stops taking his lithium: Wild blasts of lo-fi cartoon noise that sound like Karl Stalling after consuming a brick of cocaine and hallucinogens. Headbanging outbursts of unhinged death metal. Free jazz freakouts. Excerpts from old-timey Italian film scores. Blocks of musique concrete. Patton's grand mal seizures over a battery of microphones. And even some downright catchy '50s pop. Sometimes all of the above on the same song, like a radio with a busted tuner. Just listen to nine glorious minutes of "Carry Stress In The Jaw." The first four minutes or so are modeled loosely after the form of an obscure Poe poem. Supposedly. And then the loungy "Secret Song" kicks in, which is somehow even weirder (and completely hilarious).
And right after that is the band's take on Middle Eastern techno. You think I'm kidding.
All this wackiness almost overshadows just how accomplished the band is as a unit. As you can probably intuit, bending genres like a pretzel while remaining musically coherent to any recognizable degree is a fairly daunting task, and this is the last album before the band turned into the Mike Patton Show on California--not like Patton and his particular obsessions taking the reins was a bad thing, but even fans often forget just how much of Mr. Bungle is the vision of Trevor Dunn, Trey Spruance, and Clinton McKinnon and their formidable multi-instrumental chops, and Disco Volante has their smudgy fingerprints all over it. The surrealist Looney Tunes theme of "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz" owes just as much to Spruance's compositional skill and the inhumanly tight performance of the band as it does to Patton's singularly manic vocal performance.
Disco Volante is also important as a signpost for the future careers of this amazing collective. You can hear heavy strains of Spruance's equally multifarious Secret Chiefs 3, Dunn's dalliances into the world of avant-garde jazz, and some of Patton's developing interest in film scores which would later blossom into projects like Fantomas and his even more outre solo records.
Bottom line, short of John Zorn or the almighty Frank Zappa, you are not likely to find another album that chews up decades of popular music and adroitly spits it out in a deviously inspired, unpretentious, funny, disturbing, raw yet always compelling postmodern mess like Disco Volante. All fans of the endearingly strange and experimental must have this in their collection.
"IT'S ALL ON TAPE!"
I actually recommend buying Mr. Bungle's albums in reverse chronological order, starting with the stone cold classic California and working back to this. The debut is a strong album with some iconic Bungle tracks, and probably an easier ride than Disco Volante, but once this album has thoroughly bent your brain you'll have more of an appreciation for the debut's particular brand of oddity.
If you're a devout Faith No More fan (... and why aren't you yet?! BUY ANGEL DUST NOW, FOO!) that somehow hasn't managed to explore the other projects that Patton has partaken in, Disco Volante is some truly next level shit, but not as intimidating as you might think thanks to a degree of perverted pop sensibility. Still, not for the unprepared ear. Once you've worn the shine off your copy of California, break out the hip waders and get this album.