John Frusciante – Letur-Lefr (2012)

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PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone.

So, we’ll stick with the music … because it’s plenty weird too — a millennial amalgam of aerated, early 1980s-inspired electronics, soaring R&B vocals and gritty hip hop realism. You were expecting, like, guitar? Not so much on the former Red Hot Chili Peppers axeman’s Letur-Lefr, a progressive synth-pop surprise which arrives July 17, 2012, through Record Collection Music in advance of the subsequent album on September 25.

Instead, Frusciante delves deeper into sounds he’s claimed as influences for years like Depeche Mode, New Order and the Human League, but with new wrinkles courtesy of soulful wailer Nicole Turley (aka Frusciante’s wife) and RZA — the Grammy-winning producer/MC from Wu-Tang Clan.

Letur-Lefr opens with “In Your Eyes,” a track that quivers with a weird emotional fragility behind a series of thudding electronic beats. “909 Day,” with its icy synth and mechanized rhythms, then advances early experiments in new wave that go back at least to solo efforts like 2001’s To Record Only Water for Ten Days. It’s only with “Glowe” that we hear Frusciante (if only for a moment) mix in some guitar sounds, but — just like that — they vanish.

The complex and surprising “FM” dives deeper into rim-rattling bass, then a street-wise rap, then a billowing psychedelia. Finally, there’s “In My Light,” which inverts the devastating vulnerability of Letur-Lefr’s opening track: A frenetically cascading keyboard signature girds a hard-won vocal that, this time, gives away nothing. In that way, Letur-Lefr ends up raising more questions than even your average EP, which — owing to its inherent time constraints — often raises a shitload of them.

Turns out, these songs were actually recorded in 2010, just after Frusciante’s last solo release (2009’s The Empyrean) and at roughly the same time the guitarist announced his second departure from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He then immediately began work on a series of songs in 2011 that will eventually become PBX, with a leftover track called “Wall of Doors” to arrive in between the two releases.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: With 2004’s ‘Shadows Collide With People,’ John Frusciante showed he was not as hot, not as funky … but more distinctive than you might expect.]

Who’s to say what they will bring? Frusciante has always been a bit of an enigma, from his wunderkind emergence as the Red Hot Chili Peppers went supernova with 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic to his abrupt split a year later and descent in addiction — a period that included the stream-of-consciousness 1994 four-track project Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt and then the relentlessly desolate Smile from the Streets You Hold from 1997, an album Frusciante now readily admits was released for drug money. Yet, despite cleaning up and making a celebrated return to the Chili Peppers for their best-selling effort Californication in 1999, Frusciante clearly didn’t become any less interesting. Letur-Lefr simply presents more onion-like riddles to peel back.

As for the EP’s title? Frusciante has explained, sort of: “Letur-Lefr for me signifies the transition of two becoming one, notably symbolized by the first song on the album being the sequel to the album’s last.” The naming of PBX, meanwhile, involves internal communication systems, trams connected by a cable, and a sculpture technique.

OK. Like we said, stick with the music. There’s plenty there to intrigue, delight, even confuse. That’s the Frusciante way.

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Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on the John Frusciante and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

NEW CHILI PEPPERS’ EP SALUTES FELLOW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES: If you always wondered what the Red Hot Chili Peppers would sound like covering their fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees — both the expected (the Ramones, Iggy Pop) and the decidedly less so (Dion, the Beach Boys) — here’s your chance. The Chili Peppers have prepared a special download-only EP release, to be available May 1 via Warner Bros, featuring six songs from previous Hall of Fame honorees. Also included are David Bowie and Neil Young. Each, the Red Hot Chili Peppers say, were influential on the band in one way or another.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – I’M WITH YOU (2011): Though they often play with a familiar steely aggression, the Red Hot Chili Peppers seem nevertheless to be rounding the corner into middle age. I’m With You, the band’s first project since the 2006 double-album Stadium Arcadium, is often focused on departures — of youth and of old friends, perhaps a direct reaction to the exit of guitarist John Frusciante. The longest layover in band history, clearly, gave them time to think. Still, this being the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and thunderous bassist Flea being, well, thunderous on the bass, you’d expect most of these ideas to be buried deep in the group’s trademark whomping frat-boy funk, right? Not so fast. This Rick Rubin-produced efforts ends up as the most layered, complex offering in a Peppers’ catalog dating back almost three decades.

JOHN FRUSCIANTE – SHADOWS COLLIDE WITH PEOPLE (2004): What is the sound of a lone Pepper? Not as hot, not as funky … but more distinctive than you might expect. While some of 2004’s Shadows Collide With People shares bits of Chili Pepper-ness, there are definitely a few non-Pepper moments. First of all, the electric guitar does not play a big role here. No, a strummed acoustic is used to build the bed of sound supporting the vocals. This isn’t really out of left field with respect to the Peppers: acoustic guitars are used there, just not to this degree. What is very Pepper-like is the tempo, with much of the album settling into that familiar mid-tempo “Californication”/ “Scar Tissue” area. It’s also quite amazing to hear Frusciante’s vocals.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – GREATEST HITS (2003): The Chili Peppers is one of those bands that I resisted. They were getting airplay from Mother’s Milk (“Higher Ground”, no doubt) and I just did not get it. Then Blood Sugar Sex Magik came out. This was the Peppers’ London Calling, their Dark Side Of The Moon (and hopefully not their Frampton Comes Alive). The funk was undeniable: killer guitar riffs and powerful in-the-pocket drumming, all anchored by Flea’s kinetic and soulful bass. So one day at work I’m listening to BSSM and a co-worker asks me if I’ve heard the ‘real’ Chili Peppers. He offers up his LP copies of Uplift Mofo Party Plan and Freaky Styley. Cripes, this stuff is nuts!

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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