Frank Lenz: Conquest Slaughter (Velvet Blue Music, 2004)
Frank Lenz needs no introduction, especially if you’ve been listening to independent music for a good amount of time. His amazing drumming, arranging, and producing talents have been lent to musical efforts such as Starflyer 59, The Lassie Foundation, Charity Empressa, Cush, Richard Swift, Kat Jones, The Dingees, Fold Zandura Pony Express, Fold Zandura , as well as many more. Lenz‘s music has been played on TV, and he has crisscrossed the continent touring in support of the many projects he’s been involved with. It comes as a shock that a musician held in such high regard by so many other bands actually has the time and creativity to come up with his own music, but Lenz has found a way to do just that. Lenz has impressed with his sporadic solo efforts, such as his neo-soul The Hot Stuff released on Northern Records, and his self-released stoner-folk full-length The Last Temptation of Frank Lenz. However, with his latest release for California label Velvet Blue Music, psych-folk-pop full-length Conquest Slaughter, Frank Lenz truly comes into his own. The CD finds Lenz writing his most memorable songs and infusing them with the near-rampant experimentalism that marked his previous solo releases.
Conquest Slaughter begins with the campy “The Man With The Curse On His Head”. Singing his usually peculiar lyrics over a smart melody and chord structure, Lenz’s voice sounds oddly like a younger Neil Young. “The Man With The Curse On His Head” is supported by layers of disparate instruments such as acoustic guitar, a quick and dirty electric guitar solo, stellar drumming, keys, and sweet harmonies for background vocals. But, unlike The Last Temptation of Frank Lenz, in which Lenz’s imaginative use of musical sounds overwhelmed the listener at the expense of the songs, the wide variety of sounds on “The Man With The Curse On His Head” only support the song. The song bleeds into the quieter “Race Observer”, with its folky but slightly ethereal feel. Lenz’s vocals again remind one of Young in an endearing way, as Lenz croons over acoustic guitars, a harmonica, and accordion-like sounds. A remade version of the stand out “Lonely, Handy Chap” from The Last Temptation of Frank Lenz follows. Lenz allows the sweet melodies of this pop song to shine through more overtly. Featuring dissonant acoustic guitar lines, elaborate background vocal arrangements, and another tantalizingly dirty electric guitar solo, “Lonely, Handy Chap” somehow outdoes its smoother previous incarnation.
The remarkable “Isoflurane” next portrays Lenz as a piano-balladeer, as a solitary piano and light guitar line cradles Lenz‘s delicate vocals. With such lines as “the needle slips into your wrist, it’s almost time for one last kiss, before you go under the knife; a stranger tries to save your life”, “Isoflurane” is also a lyrical highlight of Conquest Slaughter. Lenz’s words about modern-day surgery and the fragility of life are both chilling and thought-provoking. After a peaceful musical interlude that leaves the listener pondering weighty issues of life, “Circus Cat” blends in. Perhaps the musical highlight of Conquest Slaughter, “Circus Cat” is a wonder of a song, with a delicious melody, smartly executed music, and gravity-defying background vocals. As Lenz sings, “I’m getting old, I’ll never be a rock star, young girls are told, their talent comes from God…”, the song builds to a powerful climax, complete with a double tracked guitar solo and generous background vocal harmonies. It may be more of a coincidence that Lenz’s vocals most resemble Young’s on the dark folk song, “I Feel Canadian”. The song has an almost psychedelic 70’s vibe to it, with its sparse acoustic and electric guitar work and foreboding mood. “Trevin Family Overdrive” is another pop/folk song, a la “The Man With the Curse on His Head”, with full instrumentation, and a clever lyrical approach to the seedier side of life. The title song is a lush and warm sounding song, sung entirely in Lenz’s outstanding falsetto, before descending into a psychedelic freak-out with random noise and frantic drumming. The short “Tree Swinging Hippies” continues with the similar kind of sweet 60’s mellow pop homage that marked the first half of “Conquest Slaughter”, with its sweet harmonies and an overall softer mood. Finally, the rather snide “Jesus Take Care Of Your Body” rounds out the CD with its Beach Boys-esque melody and wickedly funny (and powerful) lyrics blasting the use of Jesus’ name as a selling tool. The song is pure lyrical genius, and drives home its point convincingly.
Even in such a review where each song is written about, the totality of the quality of music found in Conquest Slaughter hasn’t been done justice. Releases like these are the ones that make me want to pull my hair out, because there is simply no way I can adequately describe the music on this release. Writing every song, penning every lyric, and playing every note, the visionary Frank Lenz truly proves his genius and outdoes himself on Conquest Slaughter.
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