Frank Lenz Creates a Playful, Mad Scientist Vibe with the Wonderful 'Pyramid'
The latest album from accomplished composer and session drummer, Frank Lenz, is equal parts experimental, amusing, and oddly funky.
24 January 2020
Frank Lenz is restless. A session drummer whose resume includes everyone from the Weepies to Richard Swift to Pedro the Lion, he's also a prolific solo artist with a wide-ranging discography. He's adept at multilayered indie rock (Conquest Slaughter, Vacation), punchy, hook-stuffed instrumentals (Water Tiger), and even soundtrack work (he composed and performed the music for the 2011 documentary Holy Rollers). It's impossible to predict what this multifaceted musician has up his sleeve at any given moment.
Pyramid sees Lenz at his most experimental and unpredictable. Recorded over four years "while testing different synthesizers and experimenting with sounds that would translate into the grainy expanse" (according to the liner notes), Lenz plays most of the instruments himself and is joined by Elijah Thomson on bass and David Vandervelde on additional synthesizers. The six tracks are striking in their execution. While this isn't a film score, the songs would work nicely as musical accompaniment for an engrossing documentary or a unique indie drama. The atmosphere is equal parts chilling, playful, tense, and atonal. One can't help but picture Lenz bounding around the studio, trying out different sounds, banging away on a piano, asserting his considerable drumming chops, and essentially throwing everything at the wall. Fortunately, pretty much everything sticks.
While it may have the sound of an improvisation, Pyramid was all meticulously arranged. Opening track "Drumb Solo" begins solemnly with dramatic chords as rattling percussion and jittery, jazzy drum fills enter the mix. The resulting cacophony is a wonderful way for Lenz to announce, "Here I am!" before the slightly more sedate "Best Chance Survey" follows, offering up spacey, deliberate keyboards reminiscent of Amon Tobin's recent works.
"Metatronix" contains the album's first dose of rock, as the song pairs up Lenz' funky drumming with a heavily distorted bass/keyboard line that dominates and nearly intimidates all the other instruments. The funky low end is menacing like a lumbering beast let loose in the studio. "Ohm Eye God" could be presented almost as a cool-down track if it weren't so creepy and dark. A smattering of discordant piano and whirling synth patches that sound like a stalled spaceship brings to mind the score to a highly experimental science fiction tale filled with loss and dread.
The unusually titled "Plenty Sex Teen Erection" (I feel obligated to remind the reader at this point that this is an instrumental album) gives Lenz another opportunity to insert some low-key funk to the proceedings. The loping beat is accompanied by a playful, trippy synth that provides a futuristic through-line, even when the song becomes denser with additional keyboards, and Lenz' piano gives the artificial bent of the track an almost quaint counterpoint. Lenz goes for broke with the closing, post-rock "Tiger Beat Singalong", a cavernous, reverberating anthem that includes dramatic yet highly melodic synth lines and an ebb and flow that gives the song an undeniable power.
At just over 24 minutes, Pyramid could almost be considered an EP. The run time is probably the least appealing aspect of this tremendous, playful, weirdly executed, and highly enjoyable album. Frank Lenz has engineered a "mad scientist" vibe that is both quirky and groove-oriented, and the listener can't help but wish there was more of it.