Many will recognize Viggo Mortensen as the intrepid, benevolent Aragorn from the live-action cinematic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, in particular The Return of the King, which opens December 17. Mortensen is a delightful rarity -- poet, painter, publisher, photographer -- a major-league movie star who also happens to be an underground multimedia artist of great breadth. One listen to The Other Parade, his rereleased 1998 album with guitarist Buckethead, ex-wife Exene Cervenka, and a host of others, reveals total artistic fearlessness (Mortensen plays a motorcycle muffler on every track). Its haunting, post-industrial abstractions make Einstürzende Neubauten sound like 'NSync. There's absolutely no lack of energy and presence.
This presence is even more stirring on Pandemoniumfromamerica, Mortensen's new collection of 14 wide-ranging tracks. Taking lyrical cues from William Blake, Rumi, and Jonathan Swift, the album could almost be called the dissonant but similarly adventurous Sgt. Pepper of its age, or, more rationally, the My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Mortensen enjoys effects processors). Produced by Travis Dickerson (Thanatopsis, the Fire Ants), it's a wild ride of truly poignant depths ("Gone," with father and son on plaintive piano; "Shadow," sprouting malevolence from melancholy) and ostentatious highs: The folk ballad "Half Fling," which closes out the project and tweaks the ear most amusingly, features hipster hobbits Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood, who also play on several other tracks. Pandemoniumfromamerica is consistently surprising, a homespun marriage of harmony and chaos, poetry and politics.