Maynard James Keenan attributes his reputation for being enigmatic and mysterious to not being in the press much. Tool's trippy, strange Art Metal was the first tip-off for me; the weirdo stage costumes sealed it (and read almost any of the press the singer has done and he seems more "seriously deranged" than "enigmatic").
Tool -- like System of a Down and Pearl Jam -- has always been one of those bands that I really respect and appreciate, but listening to their music doesn't do too much for me (unless I'm stoned). Even more so than with A Perfect Circle, Keenan's Puscifer side project bears little resemblance to Tool's heavy, heady mix.
On the new "V" Is for Vagina, Keenan lets his neon freak flag fly in full glory, crafting sparse, slanted experiments that creep and crawl with tribal, dark-clouded moodiness. He rewires big, World-Beat-influenced rhythms, samples voices (even porn-star-like orgasmic moans), layers of noisy and/or atmospheric soundscapes and guitars that swirl in distortion like an old Industrial single. Over top, he sings in a hushed, evil, low-register croak, sounding like Tom Waits with bronchitis. The results are strange -- nothing a Tool fan who digs them for their Metal heart would give a second listen to -- but, at best, they're alluring in their Halloween-worthy spookiness and surrealistic humor.
Keenan has proven that attempts to classify exactly what he does are futile. That said, there's nothing here that is genuinely memorable, and the froggy vocals grate after just a couple of tracks. But Target has declined to carry the album (God forbid you find something with the word "vagina" on it anywhere but the douche aisle), so Keenan must be doing something right. Grade: C