Ten years after their landmark album California, theatrical post-modernists Mr. Bungle are at it again with Valparaiso. Or so it may seem, listening to the debut of Belgium’s Joy as a Toy. There’s been no shortage of hybridized, attention-deficient music since 1999, but rarely does it balance playful accessibility with technicality and bombast the way Mr. Bungle did throughout the ‘90s.
Joy as a Toy is nowhere near as wacked out as Mike Patton’s old band, but Valparaiso is still an avant-pop blast from start to finish. Like California, it makes more than a few nods to the Beach Boys with its falsetto harmonies and pet sounds. In place of Patton’s metallic lunacy, though, are brassy psychedelic freakouts that offset seemingly straightforward indie hooks: the syncopated jaunt of opener “Disco Dog”, the brooding space-rock of “Carrousel”, and the bluesy closer “Attaque Des Vampires Suceuses De Sang”. Then there’s the puerile funk of “Deep in Your Ass”, the sinister tango of “Sub Rosa”, and “Joy as a Toy”, which recalls the Unicorns with its aching self-deprecation.