Released: April 16, 2016
Label: Acid Test
The year is 2016. Flea has just finished serenading a sold out Staples Center crowd with an uncanny bass guitar rendition of the national anthem, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers are poised to release their upcoming album late this year or early next. Current guitarist and former John Frusciante collaborator Josh Klinghoffer is poised to take the reigns in his own prowess after a solid effort on 2011’s I’m With You. As history would paint it, this new record should be his Blood Sugar Sex Magik. But where does Frusciante’s mind lie in this day and age? Apparently, his entire being has been formulated as Richard D. James incarnate, releasing a record store day extended play with Foregrow. After all, acid house is the true weapon of any “real” electronic artist, right?
As it stands, John Frusciante, along with fans and critics alike, are no strangers to his recent outpouring of electronic nirvana. Following a departure from “his former band”, Frusciante sought after new creative outpourings, first with a psychedelic rock-tinged solo effort in 2009’s The Empyrean, and from then on moving towards a series of IDM and techno projects. Given the recent track record of new EPs and two full lengths exploring his new side of drum machine loops and midi synthesizers, the response from audiences everywhere has been a whirlwind of both high praise and harsh stupor. In either case, reception has taken on an intriguing turn; anyone on Frusciante’s radar has noticed these recordings, whether or not they are enjoyable to each individual listener. Foregrow is no exception. Clocking in at just under 21 minutes, this EP further explores his affinity for layering drum loops one on top of the other, and Roland synthesizers. Were there any sort of unwritten rule concerning a cap on drum machines piling one on the other, Frusciante ignores this notion entirely. As evidenced by a personal account on his website, these four songs were actually recorded in 2009, leaving a lasting presence on just how dedicated to the craft he is. John Frusciante has never been stranger to quantity in his music, the only objection to this frame of mind being that quality at some point should take some precedence.
From a fanboy perspective like mine, the title track is of greatest importance above all else, encapsulating both former and current elements of the thought process of John Frusciante. “Foregrow” fills this quota boasting Frusciante’s familiar croons. His nasally singing voice and diverse falsetto have dominated his songwriting for decades, yet the title track alone presents actual vocal inclusions. In his own words, “The lyrics concern a vivid pre-life memory, in which I was a section of outer space.” Decipher that as you will, or stop trying before the meaning gets lost in feeble interpretations. Explanations and public statements like these are uttered from a being who has consistently been elusive to the public eye, yet possibly has fried his brain silly from years of former drug abuse, in a similar vein to Syd Barrett. Either way, Foregrow exhibits multitudes of layers and complexity.
Like the title track, Foregrow utilizes a trusty Roland TB-303, and works the sounds in a plethora of ways, but considering what makes John Frusciante’s output unique, you have to study the drum machines. For better or for worse, numerous loops and repeating lines in each track are admittedly overwhelming. Like other releases prior, song structures take a liking to a minimal synth loop, followed by an overabundance of drums stacked seventy times seven over. “Expre’act” is a classic example of this, boasting all of the elements of Frusciante’s more recent outputs. It wouldn’t be out of place whatsoever on Outsides or Enclosure. Continuing into the spacey feedback of “Lowth Forgue”, drum machines continue to take a front row seat in a collective ear drum, but also prominent is the Roland loops resembling that as something found on Richard D. James Album or Syro (another album recorded much farther away than its actual public release). The track actually starts off with a great deal of cohesion and catchiness in its IDM roots, but that’s not before a clutter of drums and synths completely obliterates any trace of a pleasurable listen. Considering the experimental nature of his body of work, that’s probably his goal exactly, but from a critical perspective, the “Uncle Drew” facade is hardly reminiscent of its real-life Kyrie Irving counterpart. Foregrow is definitely flashy and extravagant, but in the end, “it’s all about getting buckets”.
Ending on a high note, Foregrow tailors into a wavy, crescendoing synth line, providing a new sound from John Frusciante’s master library of machines. In fact, the singing, high pitch synth lines in portions of “Unf” actually channel his guitar trickery of old, pulling interesting sounds from the unlikeliest of places. Of course, the point still stands that innovation and experimentation don’t always churn out golden productions. Frusciante has been working at his new craft for awhile now. Time flies, but he left the Chili Peppers about seven years ago, and each continuing creative output pushes to newer, uncharted territory, for him as a musician, and also a radio-rock influenced body of listeners. Given the large catalog of songs and ideas not even seeing the light of day, it’s certain that John Frusciante has enough music to gift fans with for the rest of his existence. Even so, he continues to create at an alarming rate, and given the bumps and misses along the way, it’s good to know that he still exists out there, popping into the spotlight time and time again in little shrouds of mystery.