“They call us Oddfellows, when dancing on the gallows,” announces ex-Faith No More (current Faith No More 2.0?) singer Mike Patton in the opening line of the title track of this album, the fourth full-length Tomahawk release. It’s a mission statement for the latest efforts of a collaboration that has produced some of avant-garde vocalist Patton and (classically-trained) post-rock guitar maestro Duane Denison’s best work to date.
The first two Tomahawk albums showcased Patton at his finest: aggressive, sinister and comic, but accessible enough for Faith No More fanatics to enjoy. And Jesus Lizard / Legendary Shack Shakers guitarist Denison produced some of his catchiest riffs for those albums.
Things dipped a bit in 2007 when erstwhile Melvins bassman Kevin Rutmanis got the boot – allegedly with no explanation. The band’s internal shenanigans surely had an effect on their output, because the result – Anonymous – lacked the cohesive gel of the first albums, pushing things towards ambient weirdness instead of razor-sharp, dirty, twisted rock music.
Oddfellows sees the band bring things back to square one. Mr Bungle / Fantomas bassist Trevor Dunn replaces Rutmanis, and John Stanier fulfills his usual role of ‘backbone of Tomahawk’ (according to a recent Patton interview).
Creatively, Denison is the instigator. When I hounded him for a photo after a Shack Shakers gig three years ago, he told me he had the riffs for a fourth Tomahawk album in the bag. He was just waiting for Patton to find time in his diary. Three years on and the finished article proves to be worth the wait.
The riffs are looping, winding and dissonant. Familiar territory. On the title track, replace Patton’s baritone crooning with the drunken-mumbles/outraged-howlings of David Yow and you’ve got yourself a Jesus Lizard song.
‘Stone Letter’ will satisfy the FNM-hungry listener. Denison’s got the chainsaw power-chords, Stanier’s doing something brutal and beautiful to his kit, and Patton’s lulling you to sleep in the middle-eight before the whole thing turns on a sixpence. The dynamics are perfection.
‘White Hats / Black Hats’ pushes the tempo further – a clap-happy, pulsing number, driven by Denison’s hypnotic fifths and staccato punctuation. A song to make your heart dance.
Oddfellows is a true return to form, and it’s consistently good. There really are no fillers, unlike some of their earlier releases. It’s all hard, driving Denison riffs, ominous Dunn basslines, Stanier’s solid, thunderous timekeeping and Patton being… well, Patton.
There’s none of the crazed, demonic scatting you’d find him throwing at you on a Fantomas album, but the melodies are dark and weird, and so are the lyrics. Considering the setbacks during recording (a family crisis meant Patton had to finish rehearsing and recording remotely) he’s pulled off a minor miracle.
“I owe you a love song, for everything I’ve done wrong,” sings Patton on ‘I.O.U.’, and it feels like he singing to you. Maybe he is.
Words: Joseph McArthur Field