Maynard James Keenan has proven his versatility as the frontman of Tool and A Perfect Circle, but his newest album “Conditions of my Parole” truly showcases a wide variety of his vocal prowess. Puscifer, Keenan’s gambit side project, has certainly left no stones unturned as they weave thunderous bass riffs, meandering banjos, roaring syths, intricate guitar work, and a complex array of beats into a cohesive whole. The ensemble of musicians for this album include backing vocalists Carina Round, Juliette Commagere, ex-Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodor, as well as the ASHES dIVIDE drummer Jeff Friedl and bassist Matt McJunkins to name a few.
As Keenan explains, “musically, it’s like Twin Peaks in the desert.” By that he literally means in the desert—“Conditions” was recorded in the Verde Valley of Arizona where Keenan lives and operates his Caduceus Vineyards, and it does not shy away from this influence. Keenan described the recording process as “focusing, getting inspired, and then going out for a hike or going out to dinner, then getting back to work on it again.”
The album wastes no time delving into the sounds of this desertland with the first song ("Tiny Monsters") introducing a country-western sounding banjo that is echoed in “Tumbleweed,” the album’s epic closing track. After “Tiny Monsters” comes “Green Valley”—which is a simple tune that features an acoustic guitar and builds upon itself until it concludes in grand fashion. The song is about, and does justice to, the raw beauty of the area. It tells a tale of a traveling stranger who must “weigh your worth before her majesty, the Verde River”. Not only does it show how influencial the region is on the music, but it speaks volumes to the humbling attitude to “never fight her flow” and “to trust in her decision.” (If only all bands were formed at the banks of this ever majestic river.)
One song that perhaps exemplifies the entire album is “Horizons,” which starts with a gentle acoustic guitar riff and jumps into a mesmerizing electronic beat. The song then oscilates between the two drastically different sounds to create offbeat fills and dancing melodies. The song eventually adds a synthesizer and piano to the mix as Keenan’s voice powerfully yet sorrowfully cries “dust devil swept you away, it’s still not real...my recollection are all thats left of you.” The song sways and meanders like the swirling dust devils that sweep through the terrain of the Verde Valley for your listening pleasure.
A heavier side of Maynard’s voice can be heard scattered throughout the record and can especially be heard in “Toma” and “Telling Ghost”. In the former, the speedy tempo is driven by a viceral repetition of “toma!” in the background as he repeats how he wants revenge for whoever “took [his] dignity.” “Telling Ghost” fuses howling screams in the chorus with soothing melodic verses in a way that fits flawlessly. The song distracts you with its different tones until you are off-balance enough to get hit hard by the screeching yell “the more you take, the more you need! The more you suck, the more you bleed!”
And let's not forget Keenan’s ever-present quirky sense of humor spliced throughout. The mile-a-minute title track is sure to supply a laugh or two if you can make out the story of how he is out on parole (don’t forget to check out the newly released music video for this). Thank God he is, otherwise we would never get the roller coaster ride that is known as “Conditions of my Parole.” This odd concoction of sounds certainly lives up to the hype and stands alone in the music industry as a product of the Verde River. Of all the Lynchian desert albums released this month, “Conditions of my Parole” may just take the cake, and it might even be the best in that genre this year... but lets not get ahead of ourselves.