As the name suggests, “V” Is For Vagina—the 2007 debut from Puscifer, a side project of James Maynard Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle—is a pretty silly record. But where Vagina goofed, Conditions Of My Parole broods. Puscifer’s sophomore full-length skips the band’s previous, playful spew of pseudo-industrial free-association. In its place, Keenan lapses into a grim-faced songwriting mode that remains marginally absorbing while refusing to crack a grin.
The dreary consistency is compounded by the fact that, this time around, Keenan’s rotating cast of collaborators isn’t all that rotating. Unlike Vagina, with its free-for-all glee, Parole is built around a solid core of bruise-colored riffs and thick, black, bleak programming. Guest stars abound, among them current and former members of Primus, A Perfect Circle, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and The Mars Volta. But rather than letting them have their run of the place, Keenan keeps everyone on a short leash; in fact, songs like the lurching “Oceans” and the frigid “Telling Ghosts” sound like the output of a small, rigidly disciplined cell rather than fleeting members of a loose, creative collective.
When he isn’t constrained by all that sameness, Keenan allows himself to stretch out on a few gorgeous, haunting tracks, including the goth-banjo threnody “Tumbleweed” and the melody-and-melancholy-frosted “Tiny Monsters.” Genitalia, however, is in short supply. On “Man Overboard,” when Keenan coldly intones, “Captain to the seamen / Man your battle stations,” it’s entirely probable he isn’t even making a dick joke. Rather, Conditions verges on dour, monochromatic humorlessness, to the point where it’s unclear why it bears the name Puscifer at all—and not, say, Tool or A Perfect Circle.