As a creative channel for Maynard James Keenan, Puscifer is as good a place as any. For some musicians, the side project is where a trail of ideas, good and bad, goes to die. In the case of Puscifer, Keenan has described it as everything from a “playground for the various voices in my head” to “music that sounds like a smooth but firm hot-buttered pelvic massage.”
Along with the music, Puscifer is a brand – a clothing line. Artwork from Adam Jones, Tool’s guitarist and visual artist, has been featured on the clothes.
It may sound like a bizarre concept, but Keenan’s known for having his fingers in just about everything. The Tool/A Perfect Circle frontman, reclusive as he is, owns Caduceus Cellars, a winery, and is a partner in Los Angeles restaurant Cobras & Matadors. He also owns an organic market in Arizona.
The backstory is important because Keenan’s latest, Conditions of My Parole, is as diverse and captivating as his interests. As the only permanent member of Puscifer, Keenan’s concentration is at the core. There are a number of guest musicians, including Carina Round, Juliette Commagere, Primus drummer Tim Alexander, Nine Inch Nails touring member Alessandro Cortini, and Matt McJunkins.
Recorded in Arizona with the tracking done among the wine cellars at Caduceus, Conditions of My Parole features notes of electronica, rock, industrial, alternative, and southern rock.
“Tiny Monsters” opens the record with a serene vocal bit that settles in to an electronically-inclined canter that would feel at home on a Nine Inch Nails record. The drum machine beats mix with the bass line to frame an ominous but openhearted tone. Slivers of guitar cut through the mix.
On “Green Valley,” Keenan joins with Round to form some stunning harmonies. The desert-kissed track is poignant, displaying the imposing range of the frontman while charting his subtleties.
“Telling Ghosts” is more industrial magic, crunching hard through a vibrant groove. “More you take, the more you need,” Keenan sings. “The more you suck, the more you bleed.”
Puscifer “turns it up to 11” with “Man Overboard,” a mischievous piece that seems to exist partially to let Keenan say “seaman” with a semi-straight face. Humour loiters in every crook, as its feisty arrangement pulses with a stuttering drum-machine beat. “Brace yourself, brace yourself for 12,” he says.
Then there’s the acoustic, desert blues of the title track, a complete shift from much of record’s electronic-touched material. Keenan sails through a song that could make Queens of the Stone Age envious.
Unafraid of touching on a host of musical elements, Puscifer is a more than shrewd passage for what tools around in Keenan’s mind. Conditions of My Parole, together with perhaps a glass of Caduceus’ “big and brawny” Nagual del Sensei, makes for an exciting, harmonious, enjoyable musical experience.