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MR. BUNGLE - California cover
4.02 | 32 ratings | 5 reviews
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Album · 1999

Filed under Metal Related


1. Sweet Charity (05:05)
2. None of Them Knew They Were Robots (06:03)
3. Retrovertigo (04:59)
4. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (03:55)
5. Ars Moriendi (04:10)
6. Pink Cigarette (04:55)
7. Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy (03:34)
8. The Holy Filament (04:04)
9. Vanity Fair (02:58)
10. Goodbye Sober Day (04:29)

Total Time 44:16


- Trevor Dunn / bass, artwork concept, producer
Danny Heifetz / drums, producer
- Clinton "Bär" McKinnon / saxophone, keyboards, producer
- Mike Patton / vocals, keyboards, artwork concept, producer
- Trey Spruance / guitar, engineer, production strategy, producer
- Danny Heifetz / percussion, drums, keyboards and production

Guest musicians:
- Bill Banovetz / english horn
- Sam Bass / cello
- Ben Barnes / violin, viola
- Henri Ducharme / Accordion
- Timb Harris / trumpet
- Marika Hughes / cello
- Eyvind Kang / violin, viola
- Carla Kihlstedt / violin, viola
- Michael Peloquin / harmonica
- David Phillips / pedal steel guitar
- Larry Ragent / french horn
- Jay Stebley / cymbalom
- Aaron Seeman / piano (track 6)
- William Winant / timpani, mallets, tam tam, bass drum

About this release

CD released 13th June 1999 on Warner Bros. Records / Slash / London Records.

12" 180g vinyl LP released 21st September 2010 on Plain Recordings (plain152).

Thanks to xaxaar, Bosh66 for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

siLLy puPPy
Although they only released a mere three albums in a span of nine years, MR BUNGLE never repeated what came before and strived to make each album completely different than the last and in the process created three of the most daring experimental albums that the entire 90s had to offer. After four demos that saw the band grow from a bunch of deranged teenagers in Eureka, CA cranking out substandard death metal which led to the funk metal Zappa-infused potty-mouth prog of the self-titled debut, MR BUNGLE caught a complacent world of glam metal and early grunge off guard with its 1991 slap-in-the-face whack job that mixed funk, metal, jazz and even circus music with the avant-garde laced with progressive rock sensibilities. The band continued four years later with its second no limits avant-garde extravaganza “Disco Volante” which threw out all the rules and totally allowed the creative frenzy to explode into a million directions.

The first two albums gleefully flipped the middle finger to the music establishment despite appearing on the Warner Bros. label. The goal was to create unruly difficult listening music that excelled at merging the juvenile unrefined with the technical and progressively infused compositions that adopted as many music genres as possible and made them perform unthinkable acts together in broad daylight. However, with Mike Patton getting his avant-garde noise rock itch scratched not only in Mr. Bungle and Faith No More but he also released solo albums and crafted other projects such as Fantômas which meant that when it was time to record the third MR BUNGLE album, he’d let off a lot of steam and there seemed to be nothing more to prove. In fact all the band members had matured a bit. Trey Spruance had started his spinoff band Secret Chiefs 3 inspired by the track “Desert Search For Techno Allah” and had learned the art of crafting sophisticated melodies and intricate rhythms by fusing Middle Eastern and Indian folk traditions with electronica, heavy metal, surf rock and soundtrack music. Both Trevor Dunn and Bär McKinnon went along for the ride and in the process tamed down a bit.

For the band’s third album CALIFORNIA, the band minus Theo Lengyel who left after “Disco Volante” due to creative differences, decided to forge a new path and in the process created the most accessible album of the MR BUNGLE trilogy. Instead of focusing on the goal of creating a cacophonous uproar for the sake of evoking sonic terror with mind-blowing qualities, the band instead shifted gears into the world of progressive pop which crafted intricate melodies and accentuated them rather than taking them to the slaughterhouse. Keeping in line with the band’s earlier albums, CALIFORNIA carried on the by-then tradition of genre hopping and extreme fusion but this time everything was polished like the smoothest gem stone and the aim was to make irresistible pop hooks that instantly caught your attention and only then allowed the weirdness to develop organically. Gone were the excessive time signature changes and avant-garde jazz-metal gone wild with references to sexual innuendoes and potty mouth vulgarities. In were lush orchestrated sing-along compositions that included Hawaiian traditional folk, Middle Eastern music, electro-funk, doo-wop, surf rock, circus music, psychobilly, kecak, thrash metal, lounge exotica, space age pop, jazz rock, piano rock and spaghetti westerns.

CALIFORNIA focused mainly on the sounds of 60s with the vocal surf pop of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean providing the greatest inspiration however this was more like some psychotic alternative timeline gone wrong for 60s pop music and this was MR BUNGLE of course so the brilliant madness had to find more adaptable ways to weave itself around the pop hooks and soulful vocal led lyrics. Once again, MR BUNGLE caught a loyal fanbase completely off guard and in the process alienated the hardcore crowd that didn’t appreciate this sugary sell-out music but in the process found a whole new audience who found the first two albums to be nothing but abrasive and vituperative noise. And then there are those like me who find all three MR BUNGLE albums to be beautifully designed masterpieces which when taken in their own context will impregnate the listener with musical ecstasy.

Right from the getgo MR BUNGLE startles the listener who is expecting a throwback to “Squeeze Me Macaroni” or even some spastic jazz, metal or hybrid of the two. Instead it’s the sound of seagulls, the ocean and what sounds like the easy listening music of 1960s Burt Bacharach with lush symphonic orchestration and sweet sugary melodies. OMG! What happened? one may ask! Hold on, be patient. Around the two minute mark the melodies start to morph with bizarre key changes and pitch manipulation. Doo-wop backing vocals offer infectious counterpoints and the track while perhaps the tamest on the entire album is quite beautifully designed. An odd opener for sure but perhaps it serves as an inoculation to the stylistic shift so that the rest of the album sounds more dynamic. Things pick up with the second track “None Of Them Knew They Were Robots” which picks up the tempo immediately with what sounds like rampaging zombies trying to break down the door but then morphs into country western swing music with exotica along with some surf rock and psychedelic rock organ runs. The horn section cranks out some cool big band swing while Hawaiian slack key guitar and organ runs finish the job.

“Retrovertigo” is the ballad of the album with the slowest tempo and the track that is the least affected by the avant-garde regalia that only grow in intensity beginning with the fourth track “The Air Conditioned Nightmare” which also starts out as a ballad but after a soulful performance by Mike Patton ramps up the speed and sounds like a battle between 60s Beach Boys vocal surf, the space pop of Joe Meek along with some occasional metal guitar heft and percussive drumming outbursts. The track ratchets up the morphing of various genres sharing the stage. “Ars Moriendi” begins with guitar heft and then finds a violin cranking out a Middle Eastern riff. The album is fortified with 14 session musicians who add English horn, cello, violin, viola, accordion, trumpet, harmonica, pedal steel guitar, French horn, cymbalom, piano, timpani, tam tam and bass drum. The album is extraordinarily rich in various timbres that add the extremities that make up for the lack of the excesses of the past. Back to “Ars Moriendi,” the track goes through several stages with a Mediterranean cafe styled accordion mixing with the violin, a heavy rock guitar as well as surf rock and cartoon music. A true MR BUNGLE classic if there ever was one.

“Pink Cigarette” tackles the 60s spaghetti western sound obviously inspired the soundtrack music of Ennio Morricone at first but then becomes a tender ballad sort of track with odd little sounds inserted here and there except that the subject matter tackles the morbidity of suicide which finds a horn replicating one of those machines at the hospital that show the heartbeat and ends in that “they’re dead!” sound. “Golem II: The Bionic Vapor Boy” is the weirdest track on CALIFORNIA. It begins like a futurist A.I. robot ballet version of the Nutcracker with a windup music box sound and then proceeds into electro-funk with robot vocals and interesting bouncy grooves alongside freaky musical scales creating utterly bizarre soundscapes. It’s just all so friggin cool how they juxtapose sounds to create a larger sum of the parts! “The Holy Filament” is more reflective with piano arpeggios ushering in heavenly vocals except that the musical scales are dark and ominous. “Vanity Fair” is more jocular with a bouncy old time rock and roll feel with doo-wop backing vocals and a rather gospel-like vocal performance by Mr. Patton.

One of my favorite tracks is the closing “Goodbye Sober Day” which starts out with a rock and roll style like a late 50s prom along with heavy percussion from those serrated sticks you rub. The track morphs several times, first into a slow contemplative keyboard driven kind of lounge exotica and then eventually drifts into a mass Gregorian chant that itself cedes to a thrash metal guitar accompanied by a performance of Indonesian monkey chants and then makes full circle back to the opening style before ending the album and leaving the listener wondering once again what just happened! While the first two MR BUNGLE albums were chaotic and unpredictable and often random, CALIFORNIA is cohesive with every single element existing in a logical location and cyclical loops with recurring themes and a melodic connection are what gives CALIFORNIA its magic mojo. Ironically the album was scheduled to be released on the same day as the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their album “Californication” and thus was delayed a week because of the long time feud between Mike Patton and RHCP lead singer Anthony Kiedes.

As far as i’m concerned, MR BUNGLE hit a home run three times in a row. The band is a legend and one of my favorite artists of all time. They made the impossible seem effortless as they crafted three distinct albums that all stood on their own two feet and didn’t even have to blow away the competition because there wasn’t any! MR BUNGLE existed outside of known time and space and therefore exudes an otherworldly demeanor that would make this stuff weird anytime and anywhere. The genius of these guys is that they utilized the sensual sensibilities to appeal to your emotional state while bedazzling you with artistic wizardry and unthinkable juxtaposition of styles and sounds hitherto unheard. This would be the end of the line for MR BUNGLE as they wisely chose to retire the brand name and focus on their retrospective solo careers. Trey Spruance was already finding success with the Secret Chiefs 3 and Mike Patton continued his restless pursuit of the next avant-garde sounds in dozens of other projects. CALIFORNIA is yet another masterpiece by the crazed kids from Eureka. Nobody saw that coming.
California combines the comparatively conventional song structures and occasional mainstream leanings of Mr. Bungle's self-titled debut album with the bizarre laundry list of musical genres brought to bear on Disco Volante (and the two Secret Chiefs 3 albums which had been released in the meantime) in order to craft this delicious conclusion to the Mr. Bungle three-course meal. Songs like Sweet Charity and Retrovertigo lean towards smooth, slick lounge rock, but just when you think you're safe an avant-garde tidal wave like The Air- Conditioned Nightmare surges forth. Perhaps their least metal-focused album, California is still a good listen for anyone interested in a genuinely avant-garde conception of rock music.
If you’ve heard the first two Mr. Bungle albums, California might be a bit of a change for you. For the most part, the song structures are more conventional (slightly more, it’s still Mr. Bungle), and much of it comes across as (gasp) poppy and (BIG GASP!!) mainstream. Consider yourself lucky if you ever hear stuff this inventive cranking out of your radio. The shift is mainly in tone only, with the spirit of Bungle still in tact.

“Retrovertigo” is honestly one of the most beautiful and moving songs I have heard. Such a memorable and emotional chorus! It’s rather minimal instrumentally, and places Patton’s voice in the spotlight. “Pink Cigarette” is in a similar league in terms of flow, albeit more extreme towards the end as it builds towards a haunting conclusion.

This album is filled with variety. “None of Them Knew They Were Robots” and “Air-Conditioned Nightmare” blend unique combinations of surf rock, swing/rockabilly, and heavy metal. “Vanity Fair” is a rather colorful doo-wop song. “Golem II” reminds me some weird form of electronic jazz/funk with rather unusual vocals, elevator music from The Twilight Zone. I’m not exactly sure how to describe “Goodbye Sober Day”, but I’m certainly interested. By the use of exploring a wide variety of sounds and instrumentation throughout California, this is something of a precursor to Patton and bassist Trevor Dunn’s work with Fantomas (see The Director’s Cut).

I wouldn’t say this is an album a purist metal head would easily latch on to, which keeps this from being an essential “metal” album. However, this is nonetheless an excellent listen that I recommend checking out. It will certainly intrigue fans of non-conventional music, and could still perhaps cause others to cross over to more avant-garde styles of music.
Phonebook Eater

"California" is one of the funnest albums in a long time.

if there's an adjective that can perfectly describes this album, that would be FUN. Because that's what it is, and what it was meant for, having fun. Mike Patton's third effort with his band Mr. Bungle is very different from all the other previous albums. it's a lot more melodic, and less weird than Disco Volante and the debut. For some this might have been a bad thing, in fact this album isn't too loved, but I think this change of theirs was excellent. So, all the Mr. Bungle albums are different from each other. "California" is a very nostalgic piece of work musically, but it's also an incredibly fresh and original album, and has such an unusual sound, even though, like I said, it's the least experimental album of the band.

Many influences are noticeable: surf music, metal, big band, bluegrass, blues, jazz, avant garde, and some arabic music, but much less than the amount in their previous effort. Mike Patton's distinctive way of singing is indeed in evidence, since he sings many of the songs (he didn't sing That much in "Disco Volante"). As a consequence to all this, "California" might just be Mr. Bungle's most accessible album, so it is pretty much for anyone. Some songs are really amazing, they really crab you in a way that the band never really did in this type of way, using melody mixed with some experimentation and avant garde. Honorable mentions are the first track, "Sweet Charity", very nostalgic and melancholic, "The Air Conditioned Nightmare", especially in the middle part, where their external influences are most highlighted."Ars Moriendi", the heaviest song of the album, and has some arabic music influences; in fact, this track can easily be an excerpt from "Disco Volante". Not to forget "The Holy Filament", the most fascinating song off this album. Mysterious and calm in some moments, while in others it's more enlivened. But the medloy, especially in the singed part, always grabs my attention.

Such a fun and fine album overall, I recommend it to whoever likes to have a blast only by listening to music.

Members reviews

Ah, Mr. Bungle's California! This is a very special album to me, as I consider it one of the key albums that unlocked my brain and ears to open to any kind of music, and I do mean *any* kind of music. In the same song.

Raised up with two older brothers into metal, Mr Bungle was simply a lyrics reference in Sacred Reich's 31 Flavors ("Mr. Bungle is so very cool"), which was a reference to their self-titled debut. I would then be exposed to Mike Patton through Faith No More, as The Real Thing was a favourite in the household, when it came out. However, Mr Bungle remained a simple reference in a weird track on a thrash metal album (fitting, in retrospect) and a side project of Mike Patton.

At one point I did listen to Squeeze Me Macaroni, which I thought was brilliant and catchy, like Red Hot Chili Peppers on drugs jamming with Mike Patton but never came across anything else, until 2001, when a good friend of mine got hooked on California and had to share with me.

The impact upon listening to Ars Moriendi is not easy to describe. I've had heard music like that before, from Zappa or elsewhere, but never so incredibly catchy and fun. It was impossible to fathom that I would listen to something resembling balkan hip-hop meets metal meets gypsy folk meets techno meets whatever else is contained in those 4 minutes of madness, in one song AND with a coherent structure AND by being so damn enjoyful. I was hooked right then and there.

The rest of the album lived up to the expectations. Simply put, I find no fillers on this album, on the contrary I find every song an individual music trip served with class, courtesy of the brilliant musicianship of the entire band and Mike Patton's stellar performance.

Mike Patton... I am a huge fan of the man, not only as an amazing and incredibly diverse singer but also as a musician. The aforementioned Ars Moriendi is a song written by him, as is the majority of the album (he has songwriting credits in 7 out of 10 songs). This album I consider to be his magnum opus as a musician, rating his work here even above Faith No More, of whom I am a huge fan.

However, it would be hugely unfair to the rest of the band to be overlooked because of Patton. Trevor Dunn, an incredible bassist in his own right, is the author of Retrovertigo, which is certainly among the top moments of the album, a beautiful eerie song that climaxes to a huge theatrical ending, greatly supported by the fine work done in the production department. Trey Spruance, also known for his guitar work in Faith No More's King... album, co-writes with Patton another favourite off the album, Pink Cigarette. A really beautiful ballad, with Mike's voice being so smooth and emotional it could crack a diamond, the song incorporates elements from 60s Italian ballads, country music yodeling (just a simple phrase but it works wonders in the end). A definite highlight. is the aptly named Goodbye Sober Day, which closes the album, a song equally crazy with Ars Moriendi, it delivers an adventurous, fun trip to various music styles from the most weird places, mixes them up together and still manages to sound coherent.

I believe this to be Mr Bungle's best album. Of course it cannot hold the innovative weight and impact of the debut, nor can it claim any larger ambition and scope than Disco Volante. However, it manages in my opinion, to gather the elements of both those albums and add catchiness and flow, which is a monumental task considering the sheer amount of musical styles presented in each song.

I've often read that this album is more commercial and accessible than the other two, often with a hint of disappointment, citing a preference for the more experimental side of the first two (especially Disco Volante). While it is certainly true that this albums IS more accessible (commercial would be a stretch imo), this only highlights the feat accomplished by the band. Because the album is equally complex in the making and structure as any of the previous works, yet it still manages to maintain the listener within its grip. Disco Volante is a much more difficult album to follow and to this reviewer, that is not a compliment. Don't get me wrong, I truly love Disco Volante (Desert Search for Techno Allah is among the band's best songs ever) and it is a fine music trip, once you get past the initial difficulties. But it still is an album for certain days and moods, an album that I would more often than not pick only a few songs to listen to at the time.

California is an album that I would listen to in its entirety, starting with the sweet hawaiian ambience of its opener to the madness of its closing track. Always a pleasure.

Masterpiece. It is not a metal album by a longshot of course, metal is only one of the dozens of genres you can hear in it. But for a fan of music and not just one branch of music, this is, as I say, a masterpiece.

Ratings only

  • GWLHM76
  • Peacock Feather
  • Caio2112
  • tapfret
  • dream_salvation
  • StargazerSlave
  • Necrotica
  • Pekka
  • Earendil
  • Immortalis
  • butters
  • Eria Tarka
  • Lynx33
  • Amplifier Worship
  • Coracin
  • SrEstaire
  • zorn1
  • Gi
  • F611
  • Xaxaar
  • A Person
  • Paperbag
  • Tlön
  • Triceratopsoil
  • spizzetti
  • sauromat
  • Negoba

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