Rock straight from outer space

I found out about the new album from John Frusciante, former guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in an entirely unique way. On March 31, I received an email that said, “On March 29th, 2014, ENCLOSURE was loaded onto an experimental Cube Satellite called Sat-JF14 and launched into space aboard an Interorbital Systems’ NEPTUNE Modular Rocket.” The email went on to say that if I downloaded a specific app, I’d be able to stream Frusciante’s new album for free but – get this – only when the satellite passed over my region.

For many, the first reaction may have been, “This has to be a joke, right?”, especially with April 1 right around the corner. But for me, knowing how wild Frusciante is, I believed it right away. It was just crazy enough to be true. Not having a smart phone, I wasn’t able to participate in the out-of-this-world stunt, so I had to wait for someone to record it and upload to YouTube per usual (which happened pretty fast). But once I listened, I was not disappointed.

The dangers of a Frusciante album are always the same: fantastic experimentation can quickly slip into tiring self-indulgence and songs can feel too tossed off to be more than disposable curiosities.

But the successes are often transcendent and are always new because Frusciante is a tireless explorer, constantly pushing the boundaries of what he does.

Well, “Enclosure” is mostly a win. Frusciante has adapted the ambitious style of his 2013 EP “Outsides,” complete with chants, stuttering dance beats, cycling synths and, as always, searing solos, but has funneled it into a more traditional song format to great effect. This work has none of the missteps of his 2012 releases – no sugary pop choruses and, thankfully, no rap interludes.

“Shining Desert” begins with a horror movie clanging that sounds like it was taken straight from Haxan Cloak’s last album. But Frusciante cuts the tension with high-pitched singing and a laser-like beat, followed by some trademark guitar wrestling. “Sleep,” “Run” and “Stage” thrive on the tension between traditional balladry and dance rock, featuring droning chords and minimal piano work interrupted and propelled by rapid rhythmic bursts. Frusciante sings like he’s got nowhere to go and no one to impress, while the music says otherwise.

“Fanfare,” a gorgeous synthpop serenade, and “Cinch,” a prog rock slog, are the heart of the album, and are also the last tracks before Frusciante goes off the deep end (it was only a matter of time). The final three songs are lazy and goofy, but six out of nine ain’t bad.

Critics have bemoaned Frusciante’s electronic experimentation since the hit-or-miss “PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone” was released in 2012. They say it’s amateurish (which it is) and distracts from his true strength, guitar-playing. But I think the contrast is exactly what gives his work strength – his entry-level dance instincts fight against his expert rock crooning, leaving us with weird compositions that work mostly because Frusciante wills them to. And no matter the flaws, the triumphs are what keep bringing me back.

4 stars out of 5.

DOWNLOAD NOW: ‘Shining Desert.’