When you review their respective strengths, sounds, talents, and steampunk-inspired fashion sense, Les Claypool and Sean Lennon are a perfect match.
Claypool is the elder statesman of weird music. The charmingly eccentric bass maestro who fronts Primus is also a solo artist, leader or co-collaborator in Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, etc., and a savvy guest for Tom Waits and Adrian Belew, among others. He's also a showman to the nth degree, a force of seemingly offhand instrumental wizardry who executes both earnest and entertaining maneuvers amid cheeky chattiness.
Sean Lennon is the legacy of John and Yoko made flesh with an impressive 25-year career in his own right. In some ways, he takes after his dad—deft use of melody, sweetly emotive vocal quality, poignant turn of lyric, familial resemblance—but his mom, too, in his quirky composition style. At the same time, he's thoroughly informed by modern psychedelic sounds and his own collaborations and experiences, with musical projects ranging from the Shibuya-kei-informed alterna pop of Cibo Matto to proggy instrumental Mystical Weapons with Deerhoof's Greg Saunier to his trippy, enchanting folk-pop band with girlfriend/collaborator Charlotte Kemp Muhl, the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (the GOASTT). And he's produced or worked with a broad swath of artists—John Zorn, Lana Del Rey, Black Lips, Deltron 3030, Lady Gaga.
Lennon and Claypool first discussed collaborating in 2015 when the GOASTT were supporting Primus on a summer tour. Monolith of Phobos—the Claypool Lennon Delirium's cosmic full-length debut—followed in 2016, as did a run of dates that revealed their complementary skills extended beyond the studio. Claypool's slapping, bumping, plucking, and bowing of his low-end arsenal and speak-singing in nasally intones proved a perfect foil to Lennon's bright, dulcet piping, and soloing and experimenting on an arsenal of axes.
This year's South of Reality feels like a lushly layered psychedelic and space-prog rock opus at a mere nine songs and 47 minutes. Its maelstrom of time-signature-altering and key-shifting styles varies between sinister chugging and loftier whirling and swirling vibrancy, all of it encapsulated in the sprawling "Blood and Rockets: Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons / Movement II, Too the Moon." Its first part is built on a theme of bouncy bopping bass and warped ringing guitar that climbs and winds to sparkling trippiness before ushering in the brilliant Beatles-esque second part—a swirling descent of picked string melodies and ghostly vocal harmonies chanting verses like "Do what thou wilt" and "Love is the law" and "Fly me to the moon" that close on a wailing guitar riff and wash of instrumentals.
According to press materials, South of Reality is "an expression of our upside-down times, offering listeners both an escape from modern chaos and a filter through which to embrace it." Lennon has described it as "the soundtrack to the demise of the world as we knew it." It's dazzling escapism with veiled social and political references. Most importantly, it's another fine outing from two offbeat geniuses creatively juicing and jiving and coming together in a harmony of earthy funkiness and soaring spaciness.