John Frusciante has made a lot of confounding musical decisions over the years, only to emerge relatively unscathed from several career (and life) altering choices. In 2004 he released Shadows Collide with People, considered by many to be the high water mark of his winding solo career. He quickly followed that seminal album with several more offerings that were knocking on the door to overtake Shadows, but could never quite capture the throne.
But by 2009, the winds of change started to blow. Frusciante had left the Red Hot Chili Peppers (again) and had just released his 10th solo album, titled The Empyrean. A sprawling and at times overwhelming record, The Empyrean showcased Frusciante’s songwriting prowess, but there were also shades of experimentation that began to emerge, which would ultimately signify the beginning of Frusciante’s move away from guitar and towards electronic-based music.
In the six years since the release of The Empyrean, Frusciante has continued down the path of electronic experimentation. Where his albums once contained powerful vocal melodies and dizzying displays of guitar virtuoso, they were now filled with drum machines, off-kilter time signatures and plenty of “what the fuck did I just hear” types of moments. And while there have been flashes of brilliance in his recent avant-garde output, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile that this is the same musician who wrote some of the best rock songs of the last 25 years.
However, this years annual Frusciante offering is different from the rest. Released under the alias Trickfinger, Frusciante’s newest effort is his most assured and confident sounding record in years. Where his previous handful of albums came across as experimental rough drafts, never lingering long enough in any sonic territory to establish an identity, the Trickfinger album is an expertly curated snapshot of the power of acid house electronica in the 21st century. From the subdued yet pulsating bass of the album opening “After Below” to the late ’80s throwback bounce of “Phurip,” Trickfinger invites listeners to think but have fun at the same time, an element sorely missing from the all too serious IDM scene. Densely layered percussion and throbbing basslines set the groundwork on the majority of Trickfinger’s tracks, but they act merely as a conduit for the playful melodic flourishes that are at the albums core, giving an otherwise sterile and mechanized sound a touch of warm-blooded humanity.
For longtime fans of Frusciante’s work, especially those pining for the monumental rock sounds of the mid-aughts, Trickfinger probably won’t be in your album queue for long. But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper and set aside any previously held knowledge of Frusciante’s music, Trickfinger can be an immensely rewarding listen. After repeated spins through the album, I can’t help but to think that this is the sound that Frusciante was trying to achieve all along and after several stop-gap attempts on previous solo albums, everything seemingly came together on Trickfinger. If you’re feeling adventurous and want a record that’ll simultaneously challenge and satisfy, look no further.