Are the Desert Fathers (named for an ancient monastic order that withdrew from society to seek God in the desert) religious, or just another group of musically gifted, Steve Albini-produced nutcases? It hardly matters on The Spirituality, the band's full-length debut and a complex spread of schizophrenic songwriting, prog rock production, and Slint-meets-Soundgarden-through-
Shellac sonic exploration. These songs are simply otherworldly, hardly fitting in the confines of math rock and simply too zany and organic to be post-rock. The band has a guitarist named Acquaman, for goodness sake, and he plays with an introverted and demented sort of abandon on angular indie-death-pop tracks like "A Practical Joke" and "Peace in That." "The Art of Reason" can't decide if it's the catchiest of bubblegum pop or spindly prog wank, there's a creepy but angelic hymn smack in the middle of the record ("Gloria in Excelsis Deo"), and the downright scary Sonic Youth jam "Pitbulls" starts with someone trying to growl and bark like -- what else -- a pit bull. The Spirituality is basically incomprehensible in light of its contemporaries, perhaps as weird as (though much slicker than) the first Meat Puppets album, and destined to be one of the best overlooked albums of 2003.