When Primus announced their first studio album with the band’s original lineup – Les Claypool, Larry Lalonde and Tim Alexander – in nearly 20 years, fans were undoubtedly elated. Of course, when fans discovered that the album was going to be called Primus & The Chocolate Factory, well, the excitement was certainly palpable, to say the least.
The band Primus is a bit of an enigma. With a sound that’s part metal, part country twang, part jam band, part funk, these guys are distinctly peculiar. Thus, pairing their unique style with the bizarre Roald Dahl-created world of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was an overwhelmingly curious concept that merits a close listen.
The album starts with an introductory instrumental piece, “Hello Wonkites,” which teases various familiar Wonka melodies. This transitions into the band’s nearly-frightening take on “Candy Man.” Instead of an uplifting, dreamy melody, Primus gives us a dark interpretation of the piece, accompanied by what sounds like a cow mooing (most likely a distorted sound coming from Claypool’s bass). The piece is laden with offputting guitar solos and shrill vibraphone, not to mention Claypool’s grim vocals.
“Cheer Up Charlie” is a strangely mellow track, haunting with an ambient intro that settles into lo-fi verse and chorus section. “Golden Ticket” is equally as peculiar, mostly due to the hypnotically shrill guitar tone used by Lalonde. At this point, after several bizarre tracks, the listener will undoubtedly be perplexed. The album is clearly peculiar, but also familiar, and unsettlingly comforting. It’s such a unique interpretation on classic songs, and it merits a full listen.
It’s weird, sure, but also somehow enjoyable. We then move into the Chocolate Factory, delving into the entrancing opening of “Pure Imagination.” Somewhere between Wonka and the Twilight Zone, the song’s intensity comes from a backing string section playing dissonant melodies. The song is just one of many that exemplifies the band’s polished attention to detail, as they flow from section to section with ease. Those sections may be “out-there,” but every note is intentionally placed for effect.
Finally, the Oompa-Loompas. The first Oompa track, “Oompa Augustus,” is driven by Claypool’s funky bass riff alternating with backing vibes. His vocals are absolutely perfect, deep and distraught. The same general format follows for the remaining Oompa Loompa tunes throughout the back half of this LP.
A psychedelic track, “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride,” is possibly the most peculiar moment on the whole album, which is quite the statement. Altering from high-pitched to slowed-down muddled vocals, click-clacking percussions, increased tempos played on cello strings, off-the-wall sounds… Stop the boat. We’re heeeeeere!
The remainder of the album features the surprisingly-straightforward “I Want It Now,” the Veruca Salt song, another couple of Oompa Loompa tracks, and the Floyd-esque finale, “Farewell Wonkites.” After 40-plus minutes of music, the listener is left both satisfied and confused. It’s really strange, but it’s so enticing, and ultimately, awesome.
Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble is streaming through the New York Times’ Press Play service, until its official October 21st release. The band will go on tour immediately following the release, with a Halloween show at the Beacon Theatre.
-David Melamed (@DMelamz)