Review Summary: shadows casting bodies ~ who knows which way things will go?
Many readers will no doubt be familiar with the ambitious project John Frusciante undertook in 2004, recording and releasing six albums within the space of six months. The majority of these releases more or less adhered to John’s signature style of personal, guitar-based songwriting and were of a consistently high quality. The secret weapon in his arsenal that made such a feat possible was his friend and protégé Josh Klinghoffer, whose dynamic drumming provided the backbone to his sound. Additionally, Klinghoffer provided bass, keyboards, guitars and backing vocals to fully flesh out the songs and speed up the recording process. What sets A Sphere in the Heart of Silence
apart is its strong electronic influences and the fact that many of the songs were written by Josh, which adds to the highly experimental nature of the album. These factors also make it, unfortunately, the most overlooked record in the series.
Instrumental opener ‘Sphere’ gives a fairly reasonable indication why. A rather strange piece dominated by an erratic synth line that continues throughout, it contains some mildly interesting guitar playing partway through but does little to justify its eight and a half minute runtime, leaving the listener wondering what exactly they’ve gotten themselves in for. This feeling doesn’t last long however, once ‘The Afterglow’ and ‘Walls’ kick the album into gear. ‘The Afterglow’ in particular highlights Josh’s ability to merge numerous interlocking elements to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Duelling guitars battle over a driving drum loop, various synths come and go, all while twin basslines snake their way through everything else, coalescing into a trippy, danceable mesh of aural ecstasy. ‘Walls’ takes a more direct approach favouring rhythm over melody. A violent two-note synth loop holds the entire track together as more and more effects are stacked on and Frusciante’s screaming increases the intensity to generate a truly mesmerising piece of music. He is on top form vocally for both tracks, holding nothing back and showing off his versatile range with perfectly controlled screams and his trademark falsetto. His lyrical subject matter is typical of his writing at the time, indulging his fascination with contradictory wordplay and the themes of life and death.
Although ‘Walls’ features minor backup singing from Josh, the first true example of his vocal prowess comes in the haunting epic ‘Communique’. His distinctively effeminate voice pulls the listener into the ethereal atmosphere created by his piano playing and John’s synthesised wind effects, a place where time stands still and all that matters is ambience and emotion. His lyrics are rather more opaque than John’s and his heavy slurring makes most of what he sings indecipherable, serving only to escalate the tension and unease. He uses his voice like an additional instrument, managing to convey exactly what he is feeling despite the ambiguity of his words. This mood spills over into ‘At Your Enemies’, though the setting is shifted from atmospheric to subterranean by a hypnotic melody and driving bassline that exude the sensation of being deep underwater. Josh’s influence is slightly more dominant than John’s throughout and these two songs are perhaps the high point of the album.
While most of Sphere
feels split between ‘Josh’ songs and ‘John’ songs, it also excels when there is equal influence from both artists; the best example being penultimate track ‘Surrogate People’. Josh lays the foundation with his repetitive synth and vocal lines while John contributes an intricate acoustic guitar part beautiful vocal harmonies, the song slowly evolving before both of them launch into simultaneous minimalist guitar solos. The only track with no input from Josh is album closer ‘My Life’, a simple 90 second piano piece that serves its purpose but feels a tad uninspired in comparison to most other songs here.
A Sphere in the Heart of Silence
is without doubt the black sheep of Frusciante’s ‘six in six’ series. The overall vibe is that this is Josh’s project, with a helping hand from John, rather than the other way round. This is by no means a bad thing: Josh brings an aura of mystique to the music that isn’t present on the other albums and his approach gels tremendously well with John’s own. The album covers a vast range of musical styles and moods while still feeling like a unified body of work. Due to its experimental tendencies it may not appeal to all fans of John’s more straightforward guitar-driven albums. On the other hand, those seeking something a little more esoteric, or fans of electronic music in general, will find plenty to sink their teeth into here. Not all of the duo’s ideas stick, but the hits far outweigh the misses. And when they hit, they really