In taking on this project, I figured I would have to decide at some point where to draw the line between experimentation for the purpose of challenging the boundaries of what music can be, and experimentation for the sake of making a bunch of weird bullshit. Does the answer lie with the artist’s intent? With the audience’s interpretation? Will only time tell? All questions I have been forced to ponder as I listened to the self-titled one-off collaboration album Weird Little Boy, an album which is neither well known nor particularly well loved, especially by the artists who created it. An exercise in experimental extremism, the album was released on the Japanese label Avant, who have distributed albums like Bucketheadland by shred wizard Buckethead, Wow 2 by legendary noise rock band Boredoms, O Solo Drumbo by Beefheart drummer John French, and even a Marc Ribot album simply titled “Shrek.”
The personnel for this album consisted of artistic besties Mike Patton and John Zorn, regular Patton/Bungle collaborator William Winat, prolific but lesser-known guitarist Chris Cochrane, and more-er known Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance, who has apparently become the most vocal critic of this album among those who performed on it. As an artistic endeavor, the stakes could not have been lower, as the album was recorded in a lo-fi fashion with very little investment, both financially and compositionally. Patton is a talented multi-instrumentalist, but a project where he’s playing drums is probably not one he’s going to spend a lot of time and money promoting. Having said that, I must analyze this album’s contents if I am to fulfill my destiny as a Mike Patton completionist, so let’s dive in.
Hilariously, the album opens with a Phil Spector-esque drum intro before immediately turning into dark ambient humming with some errant sax squeaks. The opening track, titled Two Weeks on a Morphine Drip / New Dirt and New Flies / Lorne Greene, makes ample use of sound effects and tape manipulations, with odd percussion and an ever-loudening hiss masking what sounds like Patton’s trademark screams. Feedback and what sounds like incessant cymbal hits combine with the mechanical noise before segueing into more minimal percussion and reversed tapes. This is when the ear-piercing noise begins, blasting unrepentantly until a sudden transition into a gentle guitar passage. High-pitched electronic whining creeps in and takes over the track, accompanied by a series of quiet screams and cartoon sound effects, like someone pounding their fist on a shock jock’s soundboard. Thus concludes the first track, essentially a somewhat lazy sound collage.
Next is another multi-phased track, If the Gun Has a Mind / Redeye / Worms and Shit. This track opens with several minutes of chilling, mostly guitar-driven Halloween ambience, which becomes more spastic and aggressive about halfway through. I don’t have much to say about this one except that considering how formless it is, the different sections are surprisingly distinct. In the last leg there’s a chorus of tranquil feedback, which segues rather smoothly into the next track, Totally Poobied. This song begins with a completely fucked guitar riff, steady cowbell, and rather messy drumming, presumably from Mike Patton. The track switches between unsteady cymbal work and a booming jungle rhythm, accompanied by psychedelic keys. Whatever “Poobied” means, this track is totally that; it’s a very silly, almost freeform 2-minute indulgence that at least has something in the way of a groove.
We then get the title track, which features rubbery bass, muted wah-wah porno guitar, minimal drums, and a fair bit of whistling. Even when he’s just grunting and whispering wordlessly, Patton’s voice is very distinct, but this song still sounds like a short “hidden track” of aimless studio jamming a band might put at the end of their album as a joke.
After that is Lungful of Water, which is a surprisingly awesome and probably completely improvised 8-minute sludge metal jam. Though the mixing could generously be called very shitty (the instruments are sometimes overtaken by deafening tape hiss), the guitar (and/or bass) tone evokes beloved stoner metal trio Sleep’s early work. The drums are curiously gentle for a song of this style (bafflingly played with brushes rather than sticks), but it’s much more engaging than anything that precedes it. The last few minutes feature an agonized, atonal guitar solo, accompanied by distant sax screams, which is a nice way to cap things off.
We then get Seance, which mainly consists of some eerie harmonics, understated keyboard ambience, and sly saxophone. It kind of reminds me of I Rumori Nutrienti from Patton’s second solo album, but shorter and with chillier textures. While nothing too exceptional on its own, it is an interesting turn in the context of the album, which while incredibly disjointed, is probably meant to be experienced as a whole, much like Pranzo Oltranzista.
The next track is When Blood Fills a Cylinder, which consists entirely of a brain-tickling electronic gurgle. It does slightly intensify as it goes on, sounding like if you put a stethoscope to the stomach of a robot with diarrhea, and concludes after three minutes. Sonically, it’s a pretty interesting experience, embracing the lo-fi aesthetic in a texturally fascinating way, but it honestly might have been more compelling if it went on as long as some of the lengthier tracks.
We get some gentle slide guitar and tremolo-picked leads on Waiting, accompanied by a single-note bassline for emphasis. One of the more beautiful and palatable tracks, my biggest complaint is that it clocks in at a woefully short minute and forty-six seconds. The vibe of this track is eerily gorgeous, and I really would have liked to hear more, but this album is mostly a series of ideas that aren’t fleshed out, burning bright and promptly fizzling.
On the final track, Blindness, about a minute of barely audible electronic crackling gives way to some spare bells and what sounds like a plastic water bottle being crinkled until the noise resembles a roaring fire and annoys my coworkers. Moaning, airy synths drive the song, and the album toward its conclusion, which is equally as strange and unsettling as the rest of the material.
As a listening experience, I can’t say I totally recommend Weird Little Boy, it’s pretty half-baked and not all that groundbreaking. It’s greatest sin is that there’s not much to say about it other than it’s got some cool moments, some interesting ideas, and a freewheeling spirit the likes of which many mainstream artists fear to dabble in. I would not call it unlistenable, just rather unimpressive, and there’s little I would consider returning to. I don’t actively dislike this album per se, but for a guy who wrote the lyric “I’m a perfectionist,” Patton turned in a frustratingly low-effort product on this one.
I give Weird Little Boy’s self-titled a weird little 2.5/10
Best Songs: Lungful of Water, Seance, Waiting