Hearing two musicians of distinct sounds play to their sensibilities under one banner, all the while avoiding cross-fertilization between their father projects, is an awesome thing. Les Claypool, bass god, rebel, and inveterate eccentric, and Sean Lennon, methodical, pop folk musician, and, yes, child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, have very pronounced personalities. On paper those personalities clash; on the records they’ve made together under the banner of The Claypool Lennon Delirium, 2016’s Monolith of Phobos and now their latest, South of Reality, they harmonize.
Grant that South of Reality has all the hallmarks of its authors; grant also that its authors know how their styles complement, and even accommodate, each other, and that The Claypool Lennon Delirium subsequently shows new sides of both men, not just as virtuosos but as collaborators. South of Reality is weird. It’s unorthodox. It’s unlike most of what you’ll hear in music today. It’s completely disinterested in what you think of it, content instead to embrace its oddity, its mixture of mischief and funk, prog rock and psychedelica, metal swagger and dreamlike jams. That’s what makes the album so damn great. Why hew to one category or another when you can just hew to all of them?
South of Reality’s alternatingly smirking, naughty, playful, and transcendental, often combinations of each at once. It’s baked into the track titles: “Toadyman’s Hour,” “Easily Charmed by Fools,” “Amethyst Realm,” “Blood and Rockets – Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons.” There’s a flowery grandeur befitting Lennon’s name and a snickering pomp right out of Claypool’s playbook in each song; beneath the surface of each lurks a portent of doom or restrained laughter, sometimes both, like all the world’s a joke that only Lennon and Claypool are in on. They don’t want to watch it burn. They just know that it’s going to, or in some cases that it already is burning, or has burned.
“Jack Parsons,” for instance, is quite the history lesson, distilled into six minutes of punchy, groovy aural storytelling. But Claypool and Lennon don’t travel back in time only; they have modern day concerns on their minds, too. “Desperate measures lead to desperate situations,” they repeatedly croon on “Easily Charmed by Fools,” those fools being Tinder addicts, rubes conned by televangelists, and right-wing voters who happily surrender common sense for firearm freedoms. Even “Cricket Chronicles Revisited- Part I, Ask Your Doctor – Part II, Psyde Effects,” the most epic-facing song of the bunch just by word count alone, feels like a story of the present, speaking to an America grown too reliant on prescriptions for its own good. The music treads away from self-seriousness; neither Claypool nor Lennon could be called businesslike or humorless. Everything they do, they do tongue firmly in cheek. At the same time, they have big ideas, and those big ideas demand articulation through music on an equally big scale.
South of Reality has that scale. It’s also idiosyncratic to an extent that makes gauging it akin to a carnival ride. There’s showmanship to The Claypool Lennon Delirium, which, given the veteran talent of its chief members, is unavoidable; their union can only lead to high caliber art. But it’s challenging music, especially for newcomers to their sound. What makes the challenge rewarding is the elasticity of their work, giving the record a sense of scope that underpins the gonzo array of aesthetics they’ve sewn together here. South of Reality, ultimately, is a great album, but more importantly, it’s a great adventure.
Boston-based culture writer Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009 (and music since 2018). You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.