It's been over 5 years since the world has been graced with anything new from Tomahawk, the pseudo-supergroup featuring the triumvirate of Duane Denison, Mike Patton and John Stainer. 2007's polarizing Anonymous was an earnest exploration down the less-travelled dirt roads of the Native American experience. The album saw the group working as a trio since ankling bassist Kevin Rutmanis, with Denison performing all four-string duties and doing a more than capable job with it.Tomahawk's latest opus Oddfellows, however features the addition of bassist Trevor Dunn, an exceptional musician fresh off his stint with the Melvins Lite and who has been the unsung Johnny-on-the-spot for the majority of Patton's projects and whose presence ups the ante significantly. With Dunn, Tomahawk is off the back roads and back on the highway, giving listeners their strongest effort to date.
Patton has long been dismissive of the importance of lyrics in music - a point best proven in the work of Fantômas, Patton's other project featuring the aforementioned Dunn, Dave Lombardo, and Buzz Osbourne. A project that save for an album of covers, features no lyrics at all - just sounds. Patton's voice is used as another instrument. Tomahawk, however, is not Patton's project. Tomahawk is the brainchild of guitarist Denison, and Patton, ever the collaborative soldier will provide whatever the music requires. Patton's lyrics this time around are less tangential and more visual, with painted worlds of stone letters, sunken ships and naked ghosts.
Oddfellows is a tight, concise collection of assorted influences formed into an impenetrable alloy that seems to have an overall lighter tone than the band's previous albums. Still maintained is the groove-oriented undulations that have become the band's signature. Drummer John Stainer gets the ball rolling on title track "Oddfellows", a mid-tempo chuggernaut that has all the familiar trappings of a "Honeymoon" or "Harelip" from the eponymous and Mit Gas albums respectively. First single "Stone Letter" and I.O.U. follows, but it's only with "White Hats/Black Hats" that things really kick into high gear. From then on out, it's nothing but net right through the final strains of album closer "Typhoon". For those feeling nostalgic for Patton's past, I dare you to listen to "Rise Up Dirty Waters" and not be reminded of Mr. Bungle's "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz". "Rise Up…" should also hold the distinction of being one of the best songs the band has ever recorded. A strong highlight on an album of highlights for sure. The wait between Tomahawk albums has become longer with every release and Patton has long been a nomad, traveling from project to project, with a pretty decent batting average between them. But it's time to rest, Mike. Now that you're older, you should think about settling down for a while. Not forever, but maybe lay down some roots in Tomahawk. Put out some albums, and the requisite 2.4 tours. You'll undoubtedly get that seven-year-itch and have a few mistress projects on the side - it's an open relationship, after all. But just come home to Tomahawk every night. Denison and the rest of us will be sure to leave the light on.
In the summer of 1992, my older brother drove me to Tower Records to buy the new album by a band called Faith No More. Angel Dust was quite a departure from their previous album due to the increased influence of vocalist Mike Patton. As a 14-year-old burgeoning music fanatic, I was fascinated by the idea that such aggressive and experimental music could also be oddly accessible. While I have remained a fan of Patton throughout his numerous projects over the years, they have never quite managed to ignite the same level of enthusiasm. If any of them could be considered a worthy contender, it would be Tomahawk.
Formed in 2000 as a collaboration between Mike Patton and guitarist Duane Denison from The Jesus Lizard, Tomahawk straddled a similar line between experimental and straightforward rock/metal. The addition of ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier and ex-Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis (now replaced by Trevor Dunn, ex-Mr. Bungle) transformed the project into a veritable supergroup. Their first two albums delivered solid batches of dark yet quirky alt-rock songs. Their third, Anonymous, was a surprising collection of Native American inspired songs that left much of the aggressive rock element behind. While it is an interesting and respectable album, it was a bit of a disappointment. Six years later, Tomahawk have returned with what is arguably their most cohesive album to date.
While Patton has become somewhat of an icon of experimental music, he is most successful when he is forced to fit his tempestuous ideas into a more controlled environment. Duane Denison’s guitar work, while often angular and discordant, provides a uniquely dense framework that gives these songs their inherent charisma. In the end, Oddfellows is another album from a Mike Patton project and his grandiose presence will compel some to judge it as little else. He pulls out all the stops and clearly has no problem proving that he is still one of the most versatile rock vocalists. However, the diversity and overall quality of Denison’s compositions are what truly make this the most satisfying Mike Patton album of this century.
For those who share my affinity for 90‘s-era Mike Patton, the album hits all the right marks. One of the most notable is “Stone Letter,” which might be the catchiest and most barefaced rock song that Patton has ever touched. The fact that the song sits between the jagged guitar-driven title track and the crawling piano of “I.O.U.” is a perfect example of the outright audacity of Oddfellows. A basic verse-chorus structure will be confidently embraced for one song, only to be turned on it’s ear for the next. Oddly enough, the deviations are what produce some of the weaker moments. Nevertheless, this presumptuous nature of the album is a welcome reminder of a time when rock bands were confident enough to throw you a curve ball or two.
All of my nostalgic drivel aside, Oddfellows is not only a gratifying return to form for Tomahawk, it is also one of the more enjoyable alt-rock albums in recent memory. I am not afraid to admit that I will never be completely satisfied until I am holding a new Faith No More album in my hands. But, Oddfellows is certainly a great example of why I became so captivated by Mike Patton in the first place.
8.7 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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