John Frusciante's ': I I .' Is the Opposite of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Published Feb 03, 2023John Frusciante's musical horizons have always been broader than what he's able to explore as the guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That's why he's previously quit the band twice, and why he's released far more music as a solo artist than as a member of the group.
Now on his third stint in the Chili Peppers, his latest solo album — titled : I . on vinyl and : I I . digitally, with a modified tracklist for each — is explicitly designed as an antidote to the traditional rock song structures of the Chili Peppers. Entirely made on synthesizers and recorded live to a CD burner, Frusciante does away with chord changes, tempos, lyrics or melodies, instead presenting a series of long drones, more than half of which last over 10 minutes.
Electronic music is nothing new for Frusciante, who has been working in this world for more than a decade and reached a creative peak with 2020's Maya, but this deep dive into ambience is a big departure from the breakbeats he's usually fond of.
He's clearly influenced by Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, and the results sound a bit like Trent Reznor's film scores with Atticus Ross — although : I I . is far more shapeless than even those reference points. He'll spend as long as 16 minutes turning the filter knob on a single chord — and that's : I I . at its most pleasant, with some of the more anti-musical tracks featuring little more than robotic burbling, like the sound of Neo being sucked into the Matrix in slow motion. At one point, I couldn't figure out if my stomach was churning loudly or if my cat Dusty was snoring on my lap; turns out it was just one of Frusciante's machines gurgling on "Frantay," which sounds a bit like a hard drive getting dipped into a deep fryer.
Reviewing music is always a subjective experience, but that's especially true for an album like this — which is free of all the usual things we expect from songs. This music might be useful to some people in specific situations: to set a vaguely eerie background vibe that requires zero attention to listen to, or to serve as the futuristic soundtrack of a David Fincher-type movie. For Frusciante himself, it clearly serves a very specific purpose as a palate cleanser after his outpouring of rock and funk music with RHCP.
It would be difficult to overstate just how little happens within these songs, which will only be palatable for the most self-flagellating of drone-heads (and that's coming from someone who regularly listens to ambient music). If Frusciante diehards are looking for a touchpoint for : I I . within RHCP's catalogue, try to imagine if the first 10 seconds of Unlimited Love's "Here Ever After" were stretched to almost two hours. While ambient music often sets a mood — with calming, blissful tones, perhaps, or ominous swells of noise — Frusciante's pieces are mostly neutral, kind of like putting one's ear up against a desktop computer tower.
Frusciante has made lots of challenging music throughout his solo career; the no-fi meltdowns of 1997's Smile from the Streets You Hold or the jumbled beat collages of 2012's PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone are a couple of notable examples. But : I I . is challenging in a different way — not because it's particularly harsh and difficult to listen to (although some of the high-pitched whines have a brain-burrowing, back-molar-getting-drilled-at-the-dentist quality, which are rather unpleasant on "Galvation"), but because it will test the patience of listeners who devote attention to it.
When an album sounds barely any different from not listening to anything at all, is it good? After hearing : I I ., I'm still not sure. But hey, if it keeps Frusciante from going stir-crazy and allows him to keep making more music with RHCP, I'm happy for him to keep indulging himself like this. (Acid Test)