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Tomahawk: Oddfellows

Album Review

Mike Patton pulls his eclectic vision back into focus

During the post-Faith No More years, from about 1998-2009, if you had the testicular temerity to plant your ass in a queue so as to witness Mike Patton playing live, chances are you’d be surrounded by surprising numbers of misinformed ‘fans’ wondering out loud if the vocal chameleon would be cracking out any Faith No More covers on the occasion of a Mr Bungle, Fantômas, Tomahawk or solo performance. It wasn’t until Faith No More brushed aside their internal acrimony to play various festivals over the past couple of years that Señor Patton had done anything resembling his youthful past, preferring to stick to realms more abrasive and avant-garde or straight up big band/soul/R’n’B/pop that, in a more forgiving universe, would be considered mainstream.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard the man’s soaring vocals complementing guitars, bass and drums with all heads turned in the direction of battering out infectious, neo-metallic riffs and rocking choruses. It’s been a shorter period of absence for Battles/ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier and his human metronome thing, and it’s been about 35 seconds since we last saw Trevor Dunn slinging his bass for someone, but they’ve come together alongside The Jesus Lizard and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers guitarist Duane Denison for Tomahawk’s fourth album. 

Oddfellows is a varied collection of dark and twisted, alternative and angular rock. Its broad scope of sounds and influence may come at the listener from a variety of home bases, yet the final product doesn’t end up being so frazzled and scattered that it’s an impenetrable and unlistenable chore. Even as songs like I.O.U., A Thousand Eyes, Rise Up Dirty Waters and Baby Let’s Play pull from crooning post-punk, outsider art, coffee-house jazz and suspense flick soundtracks, this album’s distinction comes from the fact that, in spite of everything, it remains a consistently solid rock record. Stone Letter’s verses may be rooted in smoky, whiskey-soaked lounge lizard-ness, but its chorus and bridges are pure King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime

White Hats/Black Hats pulls a similar shape-shifting move as it skips deftly between a cool, slinky vibe (complete with soulful backing vocals) akin to the late 70s/early 80s Bowery bands such as Blondie, Television, Social Climbers and Talking Heads and something straight off of FNM’s classic Angel Dust. Then there’s South Paw, which possesses straightforward moments that utilise classic driving rhythms from Psalm 69-era Ministry and combine it with the hip-shaking sensibility of The Stooges. 

As weird as the four members of Tomahawk can get, anyone familiar with the deeper sections of their back catalogue will be well aware that they know how to rock. Thankfully, as Oddfellows illustrates, Messrs Denison, Dunn, Patton and Stanier haven’t forgotten about the rock amid their experimental dalliances. Also, we should be thankful we shouldn’t have to listen to any more inane chatter about hearing From Out Of Nowhere when Tomahawk hit the road in support of this beast.

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