Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is one of the bands that defies classification. Even among their brother bands in the growing “unclassifiable” genre (think Mr. Bungle, and all Patton-related projects for that matter), SGM stands out as one of the most creative and original, albeit nearly impenetrable collective of performers ever captured on disc. It's not so much because of their musical paths are previously untraveled or that they use fragments of genre-bending and jump cuts in their music like their fellow un-genre bands, but because they create an entire world around themselves. To narrow them down with buzz terms and cross-bred genre titles like “avant-prog” would be as much of a misnomer as it is an understatement, and somehow still completely accurate.
How exactly can one begin to undertake an album as detailed and abstract and simply titled after the vastness Of Natural History? Like their previous effort, Grand Opening and Closing, this record is presented like a book with its cover already summarizing the goals of the fictionalized literature inside: “What happened in the past? Will the future involve wood? Can we help the lower animals? Who swarms?”
After you’ve gotten over the “what the hell?” confusion of these abstract concepts, you open it up to find a booklet entitled “The Futurists Vs. The Unabomber” and it all starts to make some sort of sense. Of Natural History is a highly thought-out concept album involving the conflicting “anti-humanist” theories for and against the modern world. They include point by point lists of the major ideas in the different manifestos of the Futurists and of the Unabomber. Many of the songs on the album relate directly to text in the CD packaging and quote different essays or poems. Beyond the intrigue involved in such an effort, the actual music is just as interesting, detailed and frightening.
The opening track, “The Hymn to the Morning Star” opens in ominous soundscapes and sounds and melts into an almost ironic sounding gospel sung through the booming voice of singer/guitarist Nils Frykdahl, a voice that begs comparison to Mr. Bungle front man Mike Patton’s crooner-to-screamer pipes. It introduces a songbook of mythology and theory that might frighten the average listener with chants like “Bring Back the Apocalypse” and “The Creature” but is enough to keep any forward thinking black metal enthusiast listening. Carl Kihlstedt’s disciplined and enchanting violin breaks some of the chaotic math rock passages only to add to them an extra sense of mysticism on others. She lends her fabulous voice to a handful of tracks such as the clamorous “Phthisis” which excites me on several levels... needless to say I kind of have a crush on her. Check out her work in the Tin Hat Trio and Charming Hostess if you want to get an understanding of her full capabilities. “Bring Back the Apocalypse” is one of the most compelling of the songs because of its percussion duets and driving bass line by Dan Rathbun over the carnivorous barking of the band calling for Apocalypse.