If Mr. Bungle's 1991 eponymous debut was the madcap group's over-the-top coming-of-age opus, and 1995's Disco Volante their deep-end dive into more sophisticated experimentation, then California, the Bay Area cult band's third Warner Bros. disc, is a mature realization of those dual aesthetics. No less outrageous than its predecessors in terms of multicultural montage, California does, however, benefit from the combo's increasingly refined collective approach toward composition. It's a highly orchestrated affair — smoothly executed, schizoid arrangements like little else in modern music — with myriad song-shaping nuances, thanks to a barrage of sampler and keyboard embellishments.
While average listeners (and even lifelong fans) often find Mr. Bungle's densely layered mania obnoxious, there's no disputing the fascinating originality of their sound. Midway through the Zappa-doused “Goodbye Sober Day,” singer Mike Patton (late of Faith No More and currently also in Fantomas) launches into an austere Gregorian chant, complete with Latin benediction, then quick-shifts to a convincing Balinese kecak, or monkey chant, which is picked up by the group as a thrash motif. A bizarre juxtaposition of musics and belief systems, the track nonetheless works on every level. Other highlights of the disc include Patton's unironic crooning on “Retrovertigo,” his impressively melodic doo-wop overdubs on “Vanity Fair,” guitarist Trey Spruance's slick and swinging rockabilly jams on “None of Them Knew They Were Robots,” and the liquid lightning of “Ars Moriendi,” a Gypsy-ska-surf-rock hybrid featuring the impossibly fleet fiddling of Charming Hostess/Tin Hat Trio violinist Carla Kihlstedt.
It will be a miraculous feat when Mr. Bungle pulls off these ambitious arrangements in concert, and that's why, in part, these tickets will likely sell out in advance.
— Sam Prestianni
Mr. Bungle performs with the Kids of Widney High on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 13 and 14, at 9 p.m. at Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Tickets are $17; call 522-0333.