Frank Lenz Creates a Playful, Mad Scientist Vibe with the Wonderful 'Pyramid'

Photo: Jason Lowrie / Courtesy of XO Publicity

The latest album from accomplished composer and session drummer, Frank Lenz, is equal parts experimental, amusing, and oddly funky.

Frank Lenz


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.







How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.


Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.


Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.


The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.