Mr. Bungle - California (retro review) (Cover Artwork)

Mr. Bungle

California (retro review) (1999)

Warner Bros.

Mr. Bungle’s third and final album came out in 1999, and therefore it was eligible for inclusion in our 1999 20-year celebration here, though I was pretty skeptical about choosing it myself. Obviously, the main point of this anniversary review cacophony is to celebrate individual albums that debuted in the chosen year, but secondarily I would hope to see or hear or learn something larger about what 1999 was. What could we observe about the years’ selections as a big ol’ group of reviews all compiled here? My struggle with whether or not to choose California is what in the world could this album contribute to this secondary portrait? What of this album is tied to the landscape of 1999 or what other ’99 releases even share the same pool of influences? What could California ever hope to tell us about where the newest millennium would take us musically? Was California too distinctly separate from its peers to be a useful part of this mosaic? I never answered that for myself.

This is a Mike Patton project, which in my experience either means everything or absolutely nothing to you. The simple explanation is that he was the singer in Faith No More and has been involved with a whole bunch of projects ever since, Mr. Bungle being his second-most well-known. He’s got one of those discographies that requires its own Wikipedia page separate from his main page. I’ve been assured by music nerds from lake to lake that its all very much worth diving into, for whatever reason I just never have gotten very deep into it, but California stays with me, wherever I go I come back to California. 

I don’t remember the day I first heard this album, but I know where it was, and who shared it with me. An old friend today, I’ve seen him once in the last four or five years, but one of those most-days-after-school friends way back when who left a huge footprint on my musical tastes over our years hanging out at his parents’ house, playing in bands together, and even in growing apart from each other. I could assume he played the album for me the same way he first showed me tons of classics and outliers. I was probably coughing or at least red-eyed, sinking backwards into the couch in his bedroom, surrounded by his CD collection trying not to sit on safety pins, Primus’ Hallucino-Genetics likely playing muted on his small tv, as I stared at the little blue ‘valuum’ pills on his NOFX poster high up on the wall, cascading into the couch cushions wondering if my clothes would still reek of our recreational choices when I got back to my parents house later that night. I always managed to convince myself they wouldn’t.

There’s a weight to this record that’s hard to overstate. Over 45 minutes Mr. Bungle explores a fair dozen different genres through just 10 tracks, and while ‘experimental’ may feel an apt genre ID for the album as a whole nothing could feel more fraudulent or unfair to Patton, as not one minute of this album feels like anyone is experimenting or trying anything out. Every step, in whatever unexpected direction, feels as surefooted, confident, exquisitely executed as any musicians’ touch could. From the butterscotch heavy and motor oil smooth lounge-pop opener to the manic surf drums, and

goddamnit nevermind, forget it, I’m not going to write yet another review of this record that tries to detail and describe each song or movement or stanza because there’s just no point to it. It gets fast but also slow. It gets heavy and it gets light. It’s as dynamically diverse an album as you’ll find, and while I personally prefer most any albums rowdiest moments, California hits its heights at its most melodramatic and clear eyed. It’s a lot to take in, and with its whipsnap speed and large genre leaps you probably won’t dig all of it the first time you give it a go, but I did, and all these years later it can still sink my ass back into the couch. Thanks, Justin.