Issue #15: Shadows Collide With People by John Frusciante

May 9, 2016

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Shadows Collide With People by John Frusciante
Released On February 24, 2004
Released By Warner Bros. Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Doug Nunnally

Without John Frusciante, I do not know what type of person I would be today.

It’s a loaded statement, both vulnerable and hyperbolic in an almost cringe worthy manner, but it’s the unadulterated truth and something I think about very frequently in my life.

Like everyone here and most reading, music is a huge part of my life and yet I honestly don’t know if that would be the case if it wasn’t for John Frusciante. Sure, I had been into music before that, with some obscure bands here and there and a nerdy stint in high school band, but my obsession with music in all its form never would have happened if I hadn’t come across his music.

Red Hot Chili Peppers have been my favorite band for as long as I can remember having a favorite band. Sadly, I’ve long since given up on changing people’s opinions on them, though that doesn’t stop me from nudging them to a specific record or song. Honestly, I slightly agree with some of the criticism (“Hump De Bump” is lyrically just the worst), but I believe it’s no coincidence that the rise of their notoriety coincided with the rise in popularity of publications that thrive off of unnecessary snark. Still, even without the hive mind mentality, as the band continued to be successful, they became an easy target, full of double-standard criticisms that even the most adored musicians of our age disagree with. There’s something to be said about a band that contains arguably the best guitarist, bassist, and drummer of the last quarter century being held in such low regard, but time will tell on that one and I don’t mean in a Krush Groove / E.T. sense.

As many will point out below, the Peppers’ best work always came with Frusciante in the mix, where he worked at such a level above the rest of the band and personnel that it’s a wonder why they ever needed Rick Rubin after Californication. Listen to the people who have worked with him talk about his musical mind and it will be eerily similar of comments made on the 1995 Brian Wilson documentary. Simply put, as amazing as the band was, they were always playing checkers while Frusciante was getting bored with chess, an idea that his solo work will prove time and time again.

For someone who loved the Peppers as much as I did and do, it was inevitable that I would stumble across Frusciante’s own music but thankfully, a great friend saved me a great deal of aimlessly wandering before I landed on the music that would soundtrack my life (thanks Matt!). Shadows Collide With People was my starting point, as it had only been out about six months at that time and was hailed as the perfect starting spot for Frusciante’s music as he continued to diverge from conventional norms. His first two records from the ’90s, released during his reclusive time both struggling with and embracing addiction, are very fractured records that showcase some brillant musical concepts in desperate need of guidance from a disciplined musical mind. His third record, 2001’s To Record Only Water For Ten Days, is a remarkable step-up with opening track “Going Inside” being a brilliant song worthy of his guitar reputation, but it’s a record that still leans heavily in the lo-fi and avant-garde direction.

Shadows is Frusciante’s “perfect” record in a variety of ways. It stands in contrast to not only his previous murky releases, but also to his work with the Chili Peppers where he often had to defer to a producer and label executives. He is in total control here with every single note, tone, inflection, and synth warble having been meticulously placed for a reason. It can be misconstrued for over-indulgence, especially considering his 20+ other releases together probably cost as much to make as this record alone, yet understanding that nothing happens on this record haphazardly, it demands deeper reflection. What are the broader implications of “-00Ghost27” and “Failure33 Object?” What concepts in “Wednesday’s Song” and “This Cold” necessitated such seclusion from the rest of the record? Does the swirling intros heard throughout the record serve as Frusciante’s ode to the spiritual world he so admired? Does the bombastic “Carvel” serve as a gateway to his psyche or as a giant middle finger to his nasayers? Does the sequencing of “Omission, Regret,” and “Ricky” allude to a veiled prose about former collaborator and friend River Phoenix or about the man Frusciante once was? Are “Cut-Out” and “Every Person” odes to his fluid sexuality and gender or about the innocence of childhood? I could go on and on here, people.

The important thing to note on this record is that as diverse as the sound gets, there are no outliers. Every style and musical idea is not a standalone entity that only exists within the world of Shadows Collide With People. The garage rock of “Second Walk” would nearly dominate the sound of Inside Of Emptiness. The electronica curiosity displayed on “23 Go Into End” would be fully realized on A Sphere in the Heart of Silence alongside future Chili Pepper Josh Klinghoffer. Even the glitch and manic energy of “-00Ghost27” would see its day as he embraced the sound on his more recent records like 2012’s PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone.

Shadows is the perfect introduction into one of the most prolific and talented musicians of not only our lifetime, but of conventional music history. It was a gateway for myself into the world of Frusciante, which itself was a gateway into all that music had to offer from pristine doo-wop, serene folk, hardcore thrash, and even glitch rock. Frusciante provided me a master key through which I can access any musical door in existence and instantly feel comfortable. It opened my world to so many bands, acts, and concepts that I’d be a lesser person for not knowing, and yet I still find myself always coming back to Frusciante, whether it be for guidance or comfort.

It’s hard to pick a favorite track of mine from a record so flawlessly assembled, but there’s something to be said about “The Slaughter,” especially its ending lyrical refrain. “I’ll know her face a mile away / And I’ll know my pain’s a life away” are the last two lyrical ideas he puts forth here and if you were to change the words “her face” to “his voice,” the two line phrase would succinctly sum up the last twelve years of my life spent listening to John Frusciante and hopefully the rest of my life.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

It’s well publicized now, but just remember that he basically always made music for the simple sake of learning.

I’d liked to preface my words this weeks with an apology to anyone who has ever had John Frusciante solo offerings forced onto them by Doug. I was the unsuspecting fool that introduced him to Shadows and Frusciante’s solo work and little did I know what I was unleashing upon the world. It’s hard to believe John Frusciante’s Shadows Collide With People was released twelve years ago. It had spun from two hugely successful Red Hot Chili Peppers albums, as well as a widely forgotten third solo effort from Frusciante, To Record Water For Only Ten Days. The record itself was one of six that Frusciante released in 2004 and it is the most well rounded of the collection. His Inside Of Emptiness album is arguably the best, but Shadows shows a huge tapestry of Frusciante’s influences during that period. When you look at his work besides from Shadows, it has always been obvious that Frusciante is hugely driven by themes and concepts in all his work. Shadows differs in the sense that it is trying to bring all these themes together, in an array of experimentation that clicks due to it all being beautifully produced. From the very beginning on the intro to “Carvel” that bubbles with an acidic overtone, before an opening howl that leads into an anthemic rock number. That fades away into “Omission” which seems to fall out of the 1960s with an effortless ease, with Frusciante sharing vocals with Josh Klinghoffer. Having listened to the record again for the first time in a couple years, what strikes me most overall is everything feels timeless, fresh, and crisp as when I first heard it. I can only attribute that due to the experimental overtones and Frusciante’s unique vocals offbeat vocals.

Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia

What a beautiful, alchemical journey of an album this is. A survey of West Coast balladry and sonics that sets Frusciante into the pop-deconstructivist camp — pairing sunny melodies and quirky production on par with the likes of Sparklehorse and Michael Penn. Odd little musical ideas lurk about each song as inverted shadows to a curtain of harmonies. While the California vibes are rife, it proves a much more settled, yet interesting listen than anything from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or the ilk — much less irritating and something you can really sink into. It’s just the right amount of hooks and studio fuckery for my tastes. It’s everywhere — preceding songs, concluding songs, in-between songs, and even entire songs. “-00Ghost27” is gorgeously destroyed. The album is more comfortably fractured than so much prototypical alternative — just exploratory enough to break free of any derivative chains. “Water” is a standout track for me — with its submerged intro into jangly exuberance, fêted by glitchy drum and guitar. Other pop powerhouses include “Omission, “Wednesday’s Song,” and “Chances.” Shadows Collide With People runs the gamut while maintaining a glorious balance of the familiar and the alien. I’m not all that broken up over having forsaken the Chili Peppers, but I’m a little ashamed to have overlooked Frusciante. At least there’s time to make good with this album as a cornerstone.

Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz

I’m pretty much the last person who should be publicly commenting on a male-created rock record — has anything come out this year besides Lemonade? Everything before it is a blur. I know Doug is really into John Frusciante and because he’s a lovely person (and also because I don’t want to get fired from this project), I listened to Shadows Collide With People with an open mind. I know a little about Frusciante’s solo work, and most of what I heard was more experimental — there is very little of that on Shadows, which is essentially a well-crafted catchy rock record. You can tell he spent money and time recording it, because it sounds fantastic — I particularly love the mellotron and the backing vocals. Frusciante fun fact I read on Wikipedia that is totally relevant here: he thinks backing vocals are “a real art form.” I find myself repeating tracks a lot, which is something I don’t normally do (except on YouTube, strangely). “Omission,” co-written with Josh Klinghoffer, changes a lot while still retaining all the vocal hook — I love the falsetto on the bridge and chorus. “Chances” is less than two minutes and reminds me of the best Weezer songs. I do wish the sequencing was different — “23 Go Into End,” a long instrumental, is placed as the next to last track, and, despite its name, I feel like it would be better used as a slowing-down point between “sides” A and B. I was pleasantly surprised by Shadows‘ excellence and lack of RHCP dudebro-ness, and I recommend it especially if, like me, you feel a twinge of nostalgia for ’90s radio rock.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

What did I expect? A super hard, aggressive scream-fest as a departure from Frusciante’s day job with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. What did we get? A really diverse collection of songs, interludes, and experiments called Shadows Collide With People. The overall vibe is much…fluffier than anticipated, with Frusciante’s heartfelt vocals blending nicely over a wide range of musical seasoning. Perhaps the album’s most intriguing aspect is the interplay between traditional rock and electronica. Whether it’s the Moog baseline and ARP strings on “Carvel” or the cleverly used synth patches of “Regret,” Frusciante leaves us guessing as to the direction of the album’s next turn. Then there are several tracks that are purely synth based, like “Failure33 Object” or the seven minute opus that is “23 Go Into End.” Do you remember the scene in Scarface where Manolo meets Tony’s sister for the first time? “23” is basically a seven minute version of that. Frusciante also deserves major props for his vocal chops. I didn’t see that coming at all, but it’s easy to get overshadowed on the mic when you’re bandmates with Anthony Kiedis. Way to step out of the…shadows. (I hate the way people feel like they have to end music reviews. Who started that?!)

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

One of only three promo photos for this record, only one in focus. Most deliberate work to date; couldn’t be bothered for photos.

It’s easy to conflate hyper-productivity and hyper-capability, but being able to do lots of things and being able to do lots of things well aren’t the same thing, and quality tends not to scale. (If someone could kindly tell this to my dopamine mechanism so I stop craving McDonald’s 24 hours a day, that would be great.) But there are exceptions, and John Frusciante is one of them. I think of Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Nina Simone — all very good at more than one thing, all driven to create. I knew Frusciante’s guitar work was his hallmark, but his curiosity strikes me as just as vital and exceptional. The image of a playground keeps coming to mind when I listen to Shadows Collide with People. While the themes he writes about are heavy, Frusciante seems to understand in a unique way that playing music is playing, especially when it comes to hopping between genres. There’s so much to process on Shadows, with a string of catchy, varied rock songs intersecting with total stylistic contrasts like “-00Ghost27” and “Failure33 Object.” “Omission” does it within the same track, with elements that quickly appear and disappear and double-time sections that sound impulsive and frenetic despite being judiciously structured. There and elsewhere, his writing is inventive and fun and his voice so clearly communicates his gift for melody, which you can add to his legendary guitar playing, his fast songwriting, his amazing curiosity… Lots good and lots of it.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

I’ve spent the past ten years having a certain Doug Nunnally nudge me in the direction of John Frusciante’s work. However, I’ve never really sought it out, mainly because of my love/hate affair with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was also apprehensive of this record knowing that Frusciante was quite experimental in his solo work, and was worried I’d find it jarring or not to my taste. Lucky for me then that I found Shadows Collide With People to not only be extremely accessible, but also better than any single Chili Peppers album. Frusciante’s guitar work has always been exemplary on his mainstream work and Shadows Collide With People is no different — it all just feels so effortless. Without Kiedis’ sometimes over-the-top vocals and Flea’s slap bass accompanying him, Frusciante appears free to let loose and produce a record that’s tight and emotional. There are some experimental moments on the record, little dabs of electronica here and there, and instrumentals like “-00Ghost27,” but I didn’t find them to be a distraction or a turn off. The MVP track of the album for me was “Song To Sing When I’m Lonely,” a terrific track that feels melancholic and uplifting all at the same time. It’s undeniable that Red Hot Chili Peppers have produced their best work with John Frusciante in the band, and Shadows is a record that really shows off his unquestionable talent. It’s a terrific entry point for those interested in his large back catalogue and a record I highly recommend.

James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist

Red Hot Chili Peppers best stuff is with post-junkie John Frusciante. Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik have their moments, but John was for the most part just trying to fill the shoes of his hero, Hillel Slovak. After leaving the band in 1992, he spent five years abusing drugs and hanging out with people like Johnny Depp, Gibby Haynes, and River Phoenix. Once he sobered up around 1997, music, yoga, and mediation became his focus. I began to take notice of the steady stream of music released on his own because of collaborations with The Mars Volta and members of Fugazi. I first picked up DC EP and Ataxia and shortly after digesting those, I bought Shadows Collide With People. I’ve been a casual fan ever since. I love when artist take control of their art and I believe it often makes room for their best work. Shadows is a personal album, like most of John’s work outside of RHCP, and he could care less if you heard it. But if you dig it, Omar Rodríguez-López is on a similar path and I highly recommend you check in with both of these guys from time to time.

PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man

Considering solo material by a man best known as the longtime guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be a daunting proposition, even if you don’t have the repulsed reaction to RHCP that most people probably associate with record collector nerd types like myself. I definitely think Frusciante was essential to at least two unimpeachable classics (Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik) during his RHCP tenure, so I’ve got a favorable opinion of him as far as that goes. However, I’ve always heard that his solo work is a bit of a mess, and from reading about them, it did seem like his solo albums were an opportunity to indulge himself — one that he generally liked to take full advantage of. It seems Frusciante had grown tired of his own approach by the time of Shadows Collide With People, though, as he forsook self-indulgence and created a strong album of psychedelic alt-rock tunes, which could easily hold its own alongside some of the best albums to come out of the ’90s alt-rock boom (even though it was recorded at least 5 years after that boom ended). There are a few instrumental interludes that get pretty far out there, but they help to break up the rather lengthy 18-track excursion, and one, “23 Go Into End,” is quite lovely. Where the actual songs are concerned, things stay focused and mess-free throughout. There are some great upbeat rockers here, such as “Second Walk” and “This Cold” (the latter of which will be immediately familiar to listeners of Doug’s radio show, Sound Gaze). But there are also some softer, moodier tunes which have quite a bit to offer in their own right, such as “Wednesday’s Song” and “Time Goes Back.” Frusciante’s vocals have a laid-back appeal to them that is undeniable, and this whole record is sure to be a breath of fresh air for the typical RHCP hater types. You may not be able to appreciate By The Way any more than you used to after hearing Shadows Collide With People, but chances are you’ll be curious about what else Frusciante’s solo work has in store.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

Promo photo from his next record in June of ’04. Important to note, his idea of a press photo is him buttoning a sleeve.

Shadows Collide With People is strange, which was pretty much the opposite of what I was expecting. At nineteen songs and a running time just over an hour, my first instinct is to say it could’ve used some serious editing. Yet, there’s an undeniable charm to its sprawl, from its inclusion of seemingly every sound Frusciante had at his disposal to its grab bag of styles and genres. “Omission” and “Regret” are early art-rock highlights, taking a “more is more” idea in the production and coming out all the better for it. And from “Song To Sing When I’m Lonely” to “Cut-Out,” it’s a great melange of rock/pop/folk tunes. All the music here is a bit meandering to a degree, but Frusciante really goes out there on a few experimental electronic tracks. “-00Ghost27” is interesting, and sounds a lot like the tape-loop music I’ve been into lately (shout-out to Benoit Pioulard), but “Failure33 Object” doesn’t develop beyond some disappointing distortion; “23 Go Into End,” on the other hand is a compelling electronic soundscape, both melancholy and distant. Closing track “The Slaughter” is a perfect blend of synths, guitars, drum machines, and the simple pleasures of Frusciante’s voice — it could be the thesis for the album, all its best qualities in one.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

All of us are familiar with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And all of us have very specific opinions of the group. Due to a few friends of mine that have been devotees for years, I was familiar with John Frusciante’s solo output. The first song I was treated to was a lo-fi track that literally sounded as if Frusciante had someone walk around the room with a microphone and have his guitar and voice wave in and out. It always struck me as an interesting exercise and to think that this was coming from the same guy who played guitar in the Chili Peppers left me with a strong, obvious lesson. Never judge any artist by anything other than what you are currently being presented with. Reinvention happens all the time and that is the case with Shadows Collide With People. After doing a bit of research, it would appear that this record was Frusciante’s attempt at addressing a few of his critics that felt his work lacked any quality or professionalism. As far as the recording quality, this is definitely a step up from earlier solo release. Nonetheless, he still remains intriguing in how far he will venture with this eclectic collection of songs. The ambiance of “Failure33 Object” and “23 Go Into End” come from a world that came to fruition after bands like Radiohead showed how far anyone could take their sound. “Second Walk” and “This Cold” are quick dabblings with straight-forward rock songwriting. Never staying longer than two minutes, they feel like a quick breather between the density of songs like “Ricky” or “Omission” or “Song To Sing When I’m Lonely.” With Shadows Collide With People being a lengthier release, the diverge of genre within several of these tracks feels like the best approach. All in all, Frusciante provides a bit of insight as to what the mind of a driven career musician might resemble and how there is no typical settling point when working within your creative capacities. This record is all over the place, but in a terrific way. It gives a certain value to Frusciante’s craft and in many ways could offer an explanation as to why the more successful eras of the Chili Peppers have been those to include Frusciante in the group.

Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles

First of all, I will say that I am a fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and The Mars Volta so I enjoyed this very much with there being elements of all four bands on this album. While I can see how people who weren’t fans of most of that list might struggle with this album, I thought it was fantastic. It was, however, another situation like that of the Cory Branan album a couple weeks ago, where it felt like different albums mixed together. In this case, there was a contemplative acoustic album, an almost power-pop upbeat album, and an experimental album full of weird sounds and guitar parts. And they all work. At times, I pretended I was listening to a really out there Chili Peppers album; Frusciante’s voice sounds enough like Anthony Kiedis’s to make the illusion work. That’s not a bad thing by any means. I think we could use a really out there Chili Peppers album. Other than “Water,” I’m not sure if I would recommend any particular song from the album. Despite seeming stitched together from three different sessions, it works better as a whole album than any particular song.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

I’m going to come clean: I don’t like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their funk sounds unfunky to me and the lyrics strike me as smarmy or silly, and Anthony Keidis is singer whom I would not believe even if he was screaming “Fire” in a burning building. (Editor’s Note: Here’s something close to that.) So when I saw John Frusciante’s album on the horizon, I had the same sinking feeling as when I heard Thom Yorke was working with Flea in Atoms For Peace. But that actually worked out great, especially in concert, so I went into my first listen of Shadows Collide With People with an open mind. Jeez, Louise, does this guy have a lot of ideas! And none of them sound like RHCP! There’s pointers to folk, pop, hard rock, ambient electronics, R&B, and more. Shadows is enough all over the map that it becomes a bit of a production showcase, with numerous examples of different ways to layer guitars, for example. His production style reminds me a little of Tony Visconti, in the way he’ll allow the songs to accrete, say with sleigh bells on the second verse and a new synth line on the third. That’s mastery in action. Not only does Frusciante avoid RHCP-style antics, he also avoids any guitar wankery, which is impressive when you consider how often he’s cited as one of the best axemen ever. I don’t get a ton of emotion off the album, beyond a rush of excitement like that of a kid showing off a Millennium Falcon made of Popsicle sticks — but that’s quite a thrill in its own right. The songs that stick the most are the ambient sketches, like “-00Ghost27” and “23 Go Into End“, which sounds like an outtake from the Blade Runner soundtrack. I also find my mind drifting towards “Time Goes Back” and the other sun-kissed folk-pop tracks. But it’s really the album as a whole that impresses, and from what I understand, there’s a lot more where this came from.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Next Week’s Selection:
No Kings by Doomtree
Chosen By James Anderson

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Josh Buck, Shannon Cleary, Andrew Cothern, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Matt Green, Davy Jones, Matt Klimas, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, James Peart, Jeremy Shatan, & PJ Sykes

Logo By Matt Klimas


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