The deluxe version of The Aristocrats’ recent Culture Clash album contains a “making of” DVD that takes fans behind the scenes with the band. During his interview bits—shot in some hotel room while touring with the trio—Marco Minnemann offhandedly noodles around with the electric guitar on his lap.
Watching the footage, it’s apparent when Minnemann is formulating his thoughts for the camera and when he’s just clowning around. Yet the German-born musician keeps firing off these blazing, seemingly random licks on the guitar strings, even when responding to questions. It’s as if Minnemann’s fingers are possessed, or he’s got some nervous tic that prompts involuntary sojourns up and down the guitar neck for as long as the instrument stays in his hands.
Most guitarists absentmindedly fiddle with their strings, strumming chords or rehashing familiar licks. Heck, even a non-musician will explore some shapes and sounds if you sit them down with an acoustic. But Minnemann—a drummer by profession—shreds without even trying. We found ourselves wondering what he does when he’s not pounding the skins for The Aristocrats’ Guthrie Govan (guitar) and Bryan Beller (bass) or Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree).
We didn’t have to wait long.
Minnemann’s new solo album, EEPS, finds the Renaissance man stretching out on drums, guitar, and keyboards with equal finesse. Sure, he remains a drummer’s drummer, having won acclaim over the years for an “interdependent” style that gives all limbs an equal workout. But he acquits himself marvelously on six-strings and synths, too, unleashing intricate chord progressions and intriguing melodies to augment his considerable palette of percussion.
EEPS’ fifteen selections (eighteen counting the CD version’s three bonus tracks) evince Minneman’s dexterity on multiple instruments (and myriad musical toys), but they also showcase his compositional skills and left-field sensibilities. There’s a good mix of pseudo-accessible rock tunes and friendly folkies, quirky instrumentals, as well as a couple protracted pieces incorporating bits of everything (samples, looped vocals) into their head-scratching, mind-blowing soundscapes.
Listen to samples from EEPS here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KNJQoTQC7as
While there’s something for everyone in Marco’s grab bag, EEPS—taken as a whole—isn’t an easy listen. On the contrary, the music has all the earmarks of (and callbacks to) progressive rock and jazz fusion, and “difficult” music, a la King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Rush, and Mike Kenneally. Personally, we love that kind of stuff—but casual listeners might be intimidated by the unsettling time signatures, controlled dissonance, and deliberate non-adherence to conventional pop forms (e.g. verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge, etc.).
In fact, the stylistic diversity and lyrical scatology on display here reminded us of Steve Vai’s 1984 debut, Flex-Able and its 1990 follow-up, Passion and Warfare). Like guitar god Vai—who eventually found fame with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake before going solo—Minnemann kicks open every door, using every tool at his disposal to bring the sounds in his head to life, with refreshingly little regard for commercial viability. Like Flex-Able, EEPS is something of a musical manifesto—an eccentric, enchanting compendium of songs, mini-epics, and sound collages that emphasize diligence and discipline in arrangement and form, and virtuosity (and humor) in execution.
Only this isn’t Minnemann’s first time out; he’s got over a dozen solo discs under his belt already. Written and recorded at Lake Elsinore, California and New Plymouth, New Zealand, the project nonetheless provides a broad canvas with which Minnemann can exorcise demons, achieve profound catharsis.
The timid might want to check out the vocal selections first, easing into Marco’s more precarious material later. Minnemann’s paranoid, David Byrne-like narrator excuses himself from appointments and asks people to repeat themselves on “OC DC.” The radio-ready “Obvious” encourages listeners to take “every day for what it’s worth” instead of selling their hearts on the cheap. Brisk guitar strumming and pleasant piano propel “Sunshine,” whose titular female comes “crashing in…selling hopes and memories.”
Moving on to more challenging fare, “Synthetic Swans” benefits from elegant bass and guitar before dissolving into a cacophony of computer noise and monotonic voiceovers about bird migration. The eleven-plus minute “Sushi Cat Doll” commences with a lascivious whistle before setting upon a restless rhythmic ocean, but the David Gilmour-like guitar solo offers some calm within the storm. “When I Was Gone” pits electronic warbles, mechanical percussion, and ray-gun special FX with clean jazz guitars.
“This is my chance to get inside your head,” coos Minnemann’s extraterrestrial.
Wordless numbers like “Cheap as F@ck, Awesome As Hell,” “Soul Dance,” and “Right on Time and Out of Tune” allow Minnemann to tinker with tempos and mine odd meters with his rolls and flams whilst multi-tracking distorted electric guitars that alternately grind, growl, snarl, and sing. Gentle keyboards fill the background space, but Marco occasionally uses synths for melodic motifs, as on sister tunes “Live Ghost” and “Dead Ghost.” Serrated guitars coalesce on the punkish “Painter”—but the tune boasts a keyboard solo and synth-derived denouement. The sampled voices on “Douche” establish a repeating dental plosive over a beacon-like bass (wump-wump), modulated bells and chimes, and aquatic glug-glug sounds.
Watch the official video for “OC DC” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=36TriswtJZM
Bonus track “360 Degrees” bounces on a rubbery bass line and benefits from Minnemann’s guitar glissando, trills, and bends. Five-minute noise pastiche “Talking About LMR” juxtaposes plunking bass, jangly guitars, and piano with looped samples of outtakes where Marco (or someone) discusses his off-shoot supergroup, Levin Minnemann Rudess:
“First of all was the two of us, then we were looking for another person,” intones the ethereal voice. “We asked Jordan if he’d join in…and we were complete.”
Producer / Lazy Bones Records owner Scott Schorr adds keys and bass to spooky finale “Villain Vultures,” wherein Minnemann’s guitars—sounding “sick” and nauseated—haphazardly converse for ninety seconds, then yield to a whooshing space vacuum.
Abrasive? Sometimes, yeah. But EEPS is also an audacious, adventurous effort from a rare, jack-of-all-trades musician whose open-mindedness is matched only by his talent(s).