Review: Tomahawk – ‘Oddfellows’

Mike Patton & Co. return with the first truly kickass album of 2013.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

It’s been five years since Tomahawk released any new material. This is a supergroup, though they would be the first to turn their noses up at the idea. Still, realistically, Tomahawk stands in the sunlight of the supergroup idea. Tomahawk consists of Mike Patton (this guy is pretty much involved with everything), John Stanier (ex-Helmet drummer, current skinsman for Battles), Duane Denison (Jesus Lizard guitarist as well as occasional Fantomas member), and, this time around, Mr. Bungle/Fantomas bass maestro Trevor Dunn. Their new album is titled Oddfellows. So, is it worth the wait?

Yep. Completely.

Oddfellows is not Anonymous, so those looking for Tomahawk to pick up where the left off will be disappointed. Instead, Oddfellows is the musical equivalent of the truck Mel Gibson drove in Road Warrior, an unstoppable single force made up of as many varied pieces as can be. John Stainer’s drums open the album and intro the title track. His heavy foot and snare combo anchor the rhythms while Duane Denison falls over the beat with a spinning guitar line. Combined with Patton’s ethereal vocals, the opening track feels like a slow descent into madness, but a fun one. Time signatures fly back and forth here but the groove, no matter how disjointed, never gets lost.

 “Stone Letter” sounds like Angel Dust era Faith No More., my favorite album from the band, so the quiet and earnest sections exploding into huge rock choruses’ kicks serious ass for me. I also enjoy when Patton uses his singing voice, which remains one of the strongest in rock. “White Hats/Black Hats” share some Jesus Lizard influences with the rhythm section playing off the guitars in that jangly and abrasive Jesus Lizard style.  Balancing that out is Patton’s voice and these quiet but pretty backing vocals.

Two of my favorite jams on the album are stacked back to back with “A Thousand Eyes” and “Rise Up Dirty Waters”. On “A Thousand Eyes”, Denison’s guitar work is creepy, slithering quietly around Stanier as he does more just using the hi-hats than most drummers with a full kit. Dunn’s bass holds it together as Patton rambles in a low-end stream of consciousness. The foundation of  “Rise Up Dirty Waters” sounds like French, sixties, new age swing jazz. The kind of thing that would play under Saul Bass graphics during the opening of a film. Patton’s vocals leads “Rise Up Dirty Waters” through it’s peaks and valleys, which is always an interesting way to structure a tune.

“I Can Almost See Them” is a bass heavy jam that lands on the darker and more atmospheric side of what Tomahawk can do. “Waratorium” is a rocker that’s broken up into parts by a constant flow of varying tempos. Everything on Oddfellows comes from Tomahawk’s unique ability to deconstruct rock songs. If the band were chefs, they’d be Molecular Gastronomists serving up traditional foods via reductions. This is what makes Tomahawk interesting. What makes them a great band is their ability to pull off these “reductions” but still keep the music exciting on a primal level.

Without losing a step, Tomahawk return to give us the first seriously kick ass album of 2013.