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Music / Mr. Bungle

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Mr. Bungle was an experimental band from Northern California. The band was formed in 1985 while the members were still in high school and was named after a children's educational film regarding bad habits which was featured in a Pee Wee Herman HBO special in the early '80s. Mr. Bungle released four demo tapes in the mid-to-late 1980's before being signed to Warner (Bros.) Records and releasing three full length studio albums between 1991 and 1999. The band toured in 2000 to support their last album, but in 2004 they disbanded. Although Mr. Bungle went through several line-up changes early in their career, the longest serving members were vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Trey Spruance, bassist Trevor Dunn, saxophonist Clinton "Bar" McKinnon, and drummer Danny Heifetz.

Mr. Bungle frequently incorporated unconventional instruments into their music, including tenor sax, jaw harp, cimbalom, xylophone, glockenspiel, clarinet, ocarina, piano, organ, bongos, and woodblocks. Overlying this were Mike Patton's vocals, which often used death metal growls, crooning, rapping, screeching, gurgling, or whispering. The arrangement of their songs was also idiosyncratic, often lacking a structured song format and rotating through different genres ranging from slow melodies to thrash metal. New York Times journalist Jon Pareles described it as music that "leaps from tempo to tempo, key to key, style to style, all without warning." Some of the genres they utilized include Funk, Free Jazz, Surf Rock, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, Klezmer, Ska, Kecak, Avant-Jazz, Folk Music, Noise Rock, Pop, Doo-Wop, Funk Metal, Electronic Music, Swing, space-age pop and exotica, Death Metal, Rockabilly, Bossa Nova, Progressive Rock, Country and Western, circus music, and even video game and cartoon music.


In late 2019, the band announced that they would reunite for a series of reunion shows in February 2020. Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo joined them in performing the entirety of The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny as well as several cover tunes.

Their discography is as follows:

  • The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (1986, Demo)
  • Bowel of Chiley (1987, Demo)
  • Goddammit, I Love America! (1988, Demo)
  • OU818 (1989, Demo)
  • Mr. Bungle (1991)
  • Disco volante (1995)
  • California (1999)

Not to be confused with the puppet who didn't wash his hands in the Beginning Responsibility: Lunchroom Manners short parodied by RiffTrax.note 


Tropes associated with Mr. Bungle:

  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: "Carousel" includes the lyric "Will Warner Brothers put this record on the shelf?". It's uncertain whether their Self-Titled Album was actually in danger of becoming a Missing Episode, but they apparently felt they had to resort to Getting Crap Past the Radar with that lyric, as the album's liner notes don't include it in print, substituting part of "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" from Grease instead.
  • Careful with That Axe: "The Bends" ends with this, as does "Goodbye Sober Day".
  • Cluster F-Bomb / Precision F-Strike: Their lyrics are pretty salty.
  • Coincidence Magnet / Weirdness Magnet: While mixing their debut album, a friend gave Trevor Dunn a copy of the porn starring a character named "Mr. Bungle," bizarrely containing the same name as their band's and the short that inspired it. Further, they HAD a song about porn on the album ("Girls of Porn"), and a sample of the short already elsewhere on the album. A sample from the porn was immediately decided to be put on the beginning of "Girls".
  • Credits Gag: The inside liner notes to Disco volante credit Danny Heifetz and Theo Lengyel with writing "Nothing", which is a track title that doesn't appear anywhere else on the packaging. Some fans assumed this meant that the noisy jamming at the end of "Merry Go Bye Bye"note  was officially titled "Nothing". However, the credit was just intended as a joke about the fact that neither Heifetz or Lengyel contributed to the songwriting on that particular album.
    • Also in the Disco volante liner notes, Danny Heifetz is credited with playing "a woodblock" under the pseudonym "I Quit". In an interview, he explained "I wasn't a very happy person back then. Plus I played the fuck out of that woodblock".
  • Creepy Circus Music: One of the numerous genres they explore. Songs in this style are usually circus-themed in some way ("Carousel," "Merry Go-Bye-Bye").
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: "The Girls of Porn."
  • Driven to Suicide: "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare", "Pink Cigarette".
  • Epic Rocking: Many of their songs are quite long. The longest on their three studio albums are "Egg" (10:39), "Dead Goon" (10:02), and "The Bends" (10:28). "Merry Go Bye Bye" could be considered to qualify if counted as one song with the Hidden Track (12:58; the song itself is about 6:24 and its hidden track is about 5:37).
  • Experimental Metal: Unquestionably on their first demo and first two full-lengths, but elements are present throughout their career.
  • Fading into the Next Song: The whole first album, most of the songs on the second, and "None of Them Knew They Were Robots" into "Retrovertigo" on the third.
  • Fake Band: Zigzagged. Although always a real band, they initially tried to present themselves as such, with fake names listed on the album for the band members and shows played in costume.
  • Fakeout Fadeout: "Egg" ends with a repetitive heavy outro, culminating in two of these. The second is especially unexpected, seemingly ad-libbed by the band in-studio, cracking up and stopping halfway through.
  • Famous Ancestor: Danny Heifetz's grandfather is violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz.
  • Genre Roulette: To levels only matched by a handful of other artists (Frank Zappa, John Zorn, Gentle Giant, and Sigh are good examples).
  • Genre Shift: The band was originally a straight up Death Metal band. By the time they signed and recorded their first album, the Death Metal background is only heard in small snippets of their Genre Roulette style.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Disco volante translates as Flying Saucer, while "Violenza domestica" translates as "Domestic Violence".
  • Gratuitous Latin: "Ars moriendi" translates as "The Art of Dying" in Latin.
  • Hidden Track: The appropriately-titled "Secret Song" is unlisted on Disco volante, appearing on the same track as "Carry Stress in the Jaw". The LP version has "Secret Song" on a double groove with "Carry Stress in the Jaw", meaning you have to place the needle on the record a certain way to hear it. Also notable for Trevor Dunn stepping up to the microphone to sing fourth-wall-breaking lyrics about how the rest of the band kept the song a secret from him and didn't let him play on it. note .
  • Instrumentals: "Chemical Marriage", "The Bends"
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "The Bends," "Goodbye Sober Day," and "My Ass Is on Fire."
    • Though not outright scary, the Fakeout Fadeout of "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz" is a trifle startling: The song fades out, then after a few seconds of silence, the music suddenly comes back in much louder, with Mike Patton doing some rather suggestive grunting over it.
    • "Pink Cigarette", otherwise a Surprisingly Gentle Song of theirs, has the steady beep of a heart monitor enter the mix near the end of the song - the music and lyrics are suddenly interrupted by the heart monitor flat-lining. It doesn't help that up to that point, the lyrics had been counting down the hours "until you find me dead".
  • Lighter and Softer: California, in a way. It's more melodic and coherent than the earlier Mr Bungle albums, but still retains their Genre Roulette approach.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Stubb (A Dub)": Crazed circus mambo metal with lyrics about a dying dog.
    • "Squeeze Me Macaroni" and "The Girls of Porn": Upbeat funk metal with ridiculously explicit lyrics.
    • "Pink Cigarette": Smooth Soul Pop about suicide
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: Mike Patton. It's perhaps worth noting that his vocal range is considered to be the highest on record, being three whole notes past the singer with the second-highest range (Corey Taylor).
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Anything from a 1 to an 11, usually in the same song, to the point it's impossible to classify them.
  • Mood Whiplash: On the first album there is a song, called "The Girls of Porn", which makes fun of the porn industry and how it's gotten increasingly extreme, then the album ends with "Dead Goon", a disturbing song about a kid who dies during a session of auto-erotic asphyxiation and how his family finds him, and the song seems sympathetic.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly
  • New Sound Album: For a group that has basically made their entire career out of jumping through styles at random, they still bizarrely managed to pull this off:
    • Mr. Bungle: incorporates an array of different styles, but mostly sticks to ska, funk, and thrash metal, and features a decent amount of hooks and choruses.
    • Disco volante: a truly avant-garde set wherin practically every minute sounds completely different from the next.
    • California: has much of the same jarring eclecticism as Disco volante, but is heavily influenced by pop from the 50's and 60's, and much like their self-titled debut, has plenty of catchier elements. The overall approach can be summed up as "The Beach Boys burning in hell".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The title of "Quote Unquote" was originally "Travolta." Warner, afraid of a lawsuit, asked that they change it. The result was them taking out the name and leaving the quotes, which were then spelled out. It should be pointed out that Travolta's name is still spoken in the song (as is Patrick Swayze's).
  • Rearrange the Song: While touring California, they started playing a significantly altered version of "My Ass Is on Fire:" drum-n-bass loops and sections of wordless chanting were added, while much of the funk metal feel was gone, and the Overly Long Gag ending was skipped entirely. Their live sets otherwise always stuck to songs from whatever their current album was, rounded out with cover songs — they must have decided that if they were going to start playing an old song again, they should try to make it interesting.
  • Retraux: A subtle example — California was recorded on analog equipment, rather than digitally, in order to give it a sound more akin to music from the '50s and '60s, which the album sonically nods towards.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Both musically and lyrically - see the ridiculously explicit lyrics of "The Girls of Porn" for perhaps the best lyrical example.
  • Rump Roast: "My Ass Is on Fire."
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Deliberately invoked by the title of their early demo Bowel of Chiley. When an unsanctioned re-release of the demo came out, it was mistakenly "corrected" into Bowl of Chiley.
  • Sampling: The first album samples oddities such as video games, children's television programming, and porn. Most of the samples occur in between songs.
  • Sequel Song: "Sleep (Part II): Carry Stress in the Jaw" and "Sleep (Part III): Phlegmatics" are meant to be part of a Thematic Series that they started with "Slowly Growing Deaf," each with lyrics which play physical ailments for Body Horror. The reason "Slowly Growing Deaf" isn't explicitly labeled "Sleep (Part I)" is that Trevor Dunn, who wrote the lyrics for the three songs, didn't initially set out to have a trilogy when he wrote it.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: Most of the songs on the first album are connected this way with samples.
  • Singing Simlish: Happens from time to time, particularly in Disco volante with "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz" and "Chemical Marriage."
  • Spoonerism: A bootlegged video of an early high school talent show performance has the band playing in front of a banner reading "Bister Mungle."
  • Surreal Horror: The musical equivalent.
  • Stylistic Suck: "Everyone I Went to High School with Is Dead" was intentionally made to be an uncatchy, unlistenable track. It's the lead off track of their second album.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: Several examples from California:
    • The first half of "Retrovertigo," which could almost be called a Power Ballad.
    • "Sweet Charity," "Vanity Fair," and "Pink Cigarette" — all three have moments that could be described as vaguely "sinister," but have nowhere near the amount of heaviness or bizarre left turns you'd otherwise expect from the band.
    • "The Holy Filament" could possibly be the most gentle song they've ever done. While its middle section has some ominous sounds thrown in, the track on a whole is pretty pleasant to listen to.
  • Uncommon Time: They have a few examples. "Egg" has a rather prominent section in 7/4. "Love Is a Fist" contains sections in 7/4 and 11/8. "Slowly Growing Deaf" features a riff in 5/4. This undoubtedly isn't all.


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