Review Summary: shadows casting bodies ~ who knows which way things will go?
Some of you may be familiar with the ambitious project John Frusciante undertook in 2004, when he recorded and released six albums within the space of six months. The bulk of these releases more or less adhered to his signature style of personal, guitar-based songwriting and were of consistently high quality; a feat made possible with the help of friend and protégé Josh Klinghoffer. Along with his dynamic drumming, 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 leanings and several songs being credited to Josh, whose influence adds to the experimental nature of the music. These factors also make it, unfortunately, the most overlooked record in the series.
This becomes more clear when eight minute opener ‘Sphere’ throws us in the deep end with the kind of erratic synth line totally without precedent in this discography. It’s not until halfway through that Frusciante sounds anything like himself, when those minimalist guitars appear and the track morphs into something strangely compelling. ‘The Afterglow’ kicks the album properly into gear, highlighting 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 as various synths come and go, all while twin basslines snake their way through everything else, coalescing into a trippy and tasty groove. In stark contrast is the violently direct ‘Walls’, where melody is eschewed completely in favour of rhythm. A simple two-note synth loop holds the track together as more and more effects are stacked on and Frusciante’s screaming increases the intensity to create a truly mesmerising tune. The versatility across these tracks shows the vast improvement in John’s vocal abilities, while his lyrical content indulges his fascination with contradictory wordplay, life, and death: all common themes in his writing at the time.
Though ‘Walls’ features minor backup singing from Josh, the first undiluted taste of his vocal prowess comes in the haunting epic ‘Communique’. His distinctively effeminate voice pulls the listener into the ethereal atmosphere created by his powerful piano playing and John’s synthesised wind effects, a place where time stands still and all that remains 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 a seriously heavy mood 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 which evoke the sensation of being deep underwater. These two songs reach the highest peaks on the album, with Josh’s influence partially dominant over John’s throughout. That said, while most of Sphere
does feel split between ‘Josh’ songs and ‘John’ songs, it also excels when there is equal influence from both artists, namely on penultimate track ‘Surrogate People’. Josh lays the foundation with his repetitive synth and vocal lines while John contributes an intricate acoustic guitar part and beautiful 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 which serves its purpose but feels a tad uninspired in comparison to everything else here.
A Sphere in the Heart of Silence
is without doubt the black sheep of Frusciante’s ‘six in six’ series, mainly due to feeling like a Josh project featuring John and not the other way around. This is by no means a bad thing. Josh brings an aura of mystique absent from the other records and his approach gels tremendously well with John’s own, giving them the freedom to cover a range of moods and styles while still retaining a sense of cohesion. 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