It’s hard to believe a band that only survived through three albums could have covered the mind-numbing amount of ground Mr Bungle did. The reason this group’s criminally brief discography eclipses those of bands with two, three, four times the number of releases is because they had no boundaries. Everything was fair game. No style was too straight or difficult to twist into irreverant perversion, no lyrics too ridiculous or offensive. The self-titled debut tore into the jazz influences of Naked City’s John Zorn with a ridiculously bombastic blend of heavy metal, porno antics, and freak-out circus swing. The third and final venture, California, took a similarly eclectic swipe at sun-bleached surf rock. And all the while the members retained a level of phenomenal talent and composition.
Disco Volante is, stylistically and thematically and everything-else-ally, Mr Bungle’s most difficult period. It takes more time to fully swallow and the hooks are not as immediate or obvious. For that reason it’s probably not as wise a place to start as the aforementioned albums. For the same reason it is, in my opinion, the most rewarding thing this band has done.
Not to say there aren’t moments of pure pop jubilation (check out the last half of “Carry Stress in the Jaw”), but overall this is a living, breathing creature far too complex to be experienced as simply a series of tunes or experiments. At times the album leaps into operatic binges of sonic juxstaposition, clashing sounds together to create jarring, psychadelic effect. At other times the music creeps along in subtle melody, pulling imagery out of the headphones without needing to resort to saturating lyrical exposition. In fact, the lyrical content here is mostly of the absurd, dreamscape variety. Some of the content is even disturbing, particularly on sinisterly retrospective cuts like “Everyone I Went to Highschool With is Dead” and “After School Special”.
The end result is a surreal masterpiece that’s all but impossible to describe. Don’t be fooled into thinking Disco Volante is a mish-mash of over the top theatrics. It’s musical. Exceedingly musical. The ideas here sparked some of the most prolific projects of the Bungle members post break-up. “Desert Search for Techno Allah”, a track for a Buddhist cult on LSD, very much gives a glimpse into what would become the defining epic-world sound of Trey Spruance’s Secret Chiefs 3. “The Bends”, a narrative piece split into several distinct “sections” or “sub-plots”, would be expanded upon later in Mike Patton’s Fantomas project, particularly on the sprawling Delirium Cordia.
Of course, Disco Volante will always stand on it’s own, even among the albums of a group notorious for innovation. I can’t listen to it straight through without being blown away or finding myself absorbed in a a musical element I had never noticed before. For that reason, and also because it’s just an incredibly orchestrated piece of art, Disco Volante is probably my favorite album of the nineties. Buy it. Immediately. You’ll probably hate it.