Money Shot, the third full-length emission from perennially sardonic alterna-sunstrokers Puscifer, is their boldest statement to date — a mix of the snaky and the snarky, a slow grind where blissful harmonies rub up against ill-angled industrial rhythms.
“I don’t really know how else to talk about it other than it’s more,” says creative ringleader Maynard James Keenan, best known as vocalist for the exploratory rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. “It really is kind of a culmination of all the things I’ve been exposed to and inspired by over the years. That combination of the digital programming combined with that acoustic element of the harmonies…. Trying to find that actual pulse, that breath of life within the digital landscape — and then just going ahead and bringing it in for real.”
The album, due October 30 via the band’s own Puscifer Entertainment, was recorded earlier this year during what Keenan calls his “creative menstrual cycle” (“When I start feeling the cramps, get the fuck out of the way, ’cause I’ve gotta do something.”) Building on ideas he and multi-instrumentalist Mat Mitchell had floating around for three years, they recorded the album in a North Hollywood studio and in “the Bunker” of Keenan’s Arizona winery, Caduceus Cellars; the entire thing mixed and mastered in time for this year’s grape harvest.
Musicians returning to the fold from Puscifer’s 2011’s Lynchian desert mood piece Conditions of My Parole include the core team of Mitchell on most of the stringed instruments and programming as well as atmospheric singer-songwriter Carina Round who helps with the album’s dreamy waterfall gushes of harmony.
“The real star of some of this stuff to me was Carina,” says Keenan. “To bounce some of these harmonies off Carina, she’ll make different choices than I would have made. Bouncing back and forth with each other on some of those harmonies was really inspirational. She’s a badass when it comes to that.”
Other returning cast members include keyboardist Juliette Commagere and Maynard’s son Devo Keenan on cello. The album’s unique pulses are provided by some of alternative rock’s most formidable drummers including Tim Alexander of Primus, Jon Theodore of Queens of the Stone Age and Jeff Friedl of A Perfect Circle.
“Even though the time signatures are a little more than we normally do, I actually pulled the drums back quite a bit,” says Keenan. “I actually picked the track that they weren’t being busy on — more in the pocket. Jon Theodore is like an octopus, but this song doesn’t need an octopus. I picked their most tasty, subtle, in-the-pocket, simple takes.”
Lyrically, Money Shot continues with the wry, satirical gaze that Keenan is renowned for. “Maybe this collection is about not just where I am, spiritually, emotionally, physically. But also just kind of a calling out of where we are, just as a fuckin’ species,” he says. “I feel like we’ve lost our way, kind of. I guess some of this is meant to help, maybe, if you’re listening, a lot of these songs, in a way, hopefully inspire people to get back on track themselves.
“Some of the songs on here are meant to call you out,” he continues. “Some of the songs are meant to just go, ‘Have you thought about something this way?’ Are you a self-motivator? I don’t wanna sound like fuckin’ Tony Robbins, but…. There are a lot of people that thought outside the box that came before us — maybe try to be one of those people. Because we could all benefit from that right now.”
Though, of course, there are also more blunt statements like the chorus of “Remedy”: “You speak like someone who has never been smacked in the fucking mouth/That’s OK, we have the remedy.”
The end result is the most confident Puscifer release to date — and easily the most openly “Maynard James Keenan” of the bunch. The one thing he didn’t do on this album was “hesitate,” eschewing the pressure of deliberately standing apart from his other bands. “I was already versions of myself on prior projects. And then to have to kind of create a third version of me…. I’m no longer having to reinvent myself. I’m settling into what I know, rather than trying to reinvent and come up with something I didn’t know yet. I am just settling into me.”
“This is me pulling out all the stops,” he says, “to just be who I’ve been as a musician.”