Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – of the Last Human Being

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – of the Last Human Being

Every now and then I need some chaos in my musical life, whether that’s King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Mr Bungle or Bent Knee. It didn’t take me long to realise that this album ticked all the chaos boxes and a few I hadn’t even considered. I’m amazed that I hadn’t heard of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum before now, the band started out in 1999 and have disbanded and reformed twice. Their most recent hiatus was from 2016 to 2023 and here they return with their fourth album and their first since 2007! Their fanbase is loyal enough that this album was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter in just two days, which covered the cost of the album and also an accompanying short film.

My research tells me that Tony Levin is a fan of the band and Mike Patton has performed live with them before. It makes sense to me that the former King Crimson bass player and the frontman of Faith No More, Tomahawk, and the aforementioned Mr Bungle, would be fans of this band. They sound like a Mike Patton take on King Crimson to my ears. Like Patton’s best projects, there is a lot thrown at you here, it isn’t always an easy listen but it rewards you for persevering.

Of the Last Human Being is spiky and angular, aggressive and confusing, while simultaneously beautiful and beguiling. This is really progressive music, with few boundaries, an experimental passion and the freedom that comes from having no fear of audience rejection. A musical art project of mythical proportions, with a cinematic uneasy feel. Someone at A24 should be tapping them up for an unsettling film score, this could easily be the house band at some kind of American Wicker Man style pagan festival.

This isn’t the kind of album I would happily put on repeat at the point of release, it’s more of an acquired taste and an LP that I’d want to play when I was in the right mood. It’s the antithesis of background music and needs your full time and attention. Every song kept me guessing as to where it was going, which is a rare treat as a seasoned listener. It’s unhinged in the best way possible, like Talking Heads on amphetamines. Lyrically I didn’t really know what was going on, but I don’t care, I was happy to allow myself to be taken along for the hypnotic ride as the traveling freakshow came to town.

It’s in the middle section of the album that I really feel it comes into its own. Silverfish is an unhinged, delicate, yet intimidating folk song with a haunting and unnerving female vocal that Björk would be proud of. It also contains some exquisite strings, that give it the air of a funeral waltz. S.P.Q.R. is the best Belew and Levin era King Crimson song they never recorded, a tumultuous rhythm driven assault on the senses that I absolutely adored. I soon found myself chanting along with the “We are all Romans” lyrics. It’s a glorious noise. This is then perfectly juxtaposed by the following track, We Must Know More which feels like something from the old cabaret scene, much like The Doors or David Bowie’s version of Brecht’s Alabama Song.

The high bar is maintained throughout and the sequencing to my ears is perfect. There is something about the closing track on the album that made me think back to the eerie opening to the 70s Independent Television for Schools and Colleges series Picture Box, hosted by Alan Rothwell. It doesn’t sound much like it, but it takes a childlike innocent sound and turns it into something deliciously dark. Having looked up Manège, the theme from Picture Box, the performers on that track also used instruments of their own creation, like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum does today.

This is avant-garde music, made with home-made instruments and with an extravagant backstory (the museum itself which may or may not exist) and a sense of carefree abandon. If you like your music to be challenging, rather than just a passive experience then this should be right up your street. Each track is very different from the next and different sections of each song take on different feels and tone too. This is an eclectic mix and it is all the better for it, with some lovely evocative touches that make this something you live within rather than just listen to. It puts me on edge like when I used to creep into the back room of our school Environmental Studies block to catch sight of the two headed calf in a jar of formaldehyde. Imagine a darker, more macabre version of Phideaux.

Sometimes this record is as aggressive and relentless as a boatload of pillaging Vikings, at others it’s as gentle and ethereal as a fairy’s wings in the moonlight. Much like Wobbler’s Dwellers of the Deep, there’s something about this record that makes me want to connect with nature and listen to it in the great outdoors. I want to listen to this album lying on my back in a woodland clearing, just as the sun sets. That isn’t just due to the occasional animal based lyrics, which remind me a bit of Haken’s Fauna, it’s more as a result of the rustic aesthetic and wonderful field recordings within the sound design, making the whole thing feel like a twisted al fresco performance from a group of travelling troubadours from another dimension. The band’s own Bandcamp page describes them perfectly – “Perhaps we can call them Avant-Prog Metal, or Grindcore Funk Theater, or in the words of one particularly rapt concertgoer “Satanic Anarchic Viking Shit.””

Despite the comparisons I’ve made, this album could only be created by this band and their singular vision. Some purist prog fans might call this a racket at times, but what a glorious racket it is! I felt every note of this record deep within my being, from the sinew of my muscles to the bones of my skeletal form. Not all music has the power to do that, this record does. Be brave, be bold and give it a spin. If you have an open mind you’ll be very glad you did.

01. Salamander in Two Worlds (6:30)
02. Fanfare for the Last Human Being (1:31)
03. El Evil (5:44)
04. Bells for Kith and Kin (1:25)
05. Silverfish (7:16)
06. S.P.Q.R. (4:05)
07. We Must Know More (3:35)
08. The Gift (6:11)
09. Hush, Hush (7:44)
10. Save it! (2:58)
11. Burn into Light (5:26)
12. Old Grey Heron (7:24)
13. Rose-Colored Song (5:45)

Total Time – 65:40

Nils Frykdahl – Guitar, Flute, Saxophone, Vocals
Carla Kihlstedt – Violin, Viola, Stroh Violin, Bass Harmonica, Percussion, Vocals
Michael ‘lago’ Mellender – Guitar, Trumpet, Euphonium, Vocals
Dan Rathbun – Bass, Trombone, Dulcimer, Piano, Vibraphone, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Harmonium, Vocals
Matthias Bossi – Drums, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Piano, Synths, Vocals
~ With:
Thor Harris – Bells (4)
Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble – Vocal Ensemble (5)
Dominique Persi, Erik Carter, Jenya Chernoff, Mallory McAvoy, Matt Lebofsky, Matthias, Meredith Yayanos – Chanting (8)
Shinichi Momo Iova-Koga – Voice (13)


Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, comprised of multi-instrumentalists and rotating vocalists Nils Frykdahl, Carla Kihlstedt, Michael “Iago” Mellender, Matthias Bossi, and Dan Rathbun, plays an arsenal of instruments ranging from the somewhat standard (drums, electric guitars, bass, electric violin) to the rare (bass harmonica, nyckelharpa, marxophone) to the homemade (Slide-Piano Log, Electric Pancreas, Pedal-Action Wiggler).

Record Label: Avant Night
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 23rd February 2024

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube