When Tomahawk first emerged they were heralded as something of a slightly left-field supergroup. With Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr Bungle, star of Firecracker) , John Stanier (Helmet, Battles), Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard) and Kevin Rutmanis (Melvins) on board it was something of a surprise that Tomahawk weren’t quite as full on and strange as perhaps might have been expected. Indeed their first two albums (Eponymous and Mit Gas) were filled with menacing perfectly written rock tunes that were a lot more conventional than might have been expected. It was only when Rutmanis left prior to album number three, that things started to stray from the beaten path. That album, Anonymous, a concept album based around Native American music, was something of a hit and miss affair that strayed from the original Tomahawk blueprint and in doing so, delighted some, but disappointed others.
Oddfellows finds the band back up to full strength with the recruitment of regular Patton co-conspirator Trevor Dunn on bass. It would also appear that after the experimentalism of Anonymous, Tomahawk is happy to return to their more direct rock roots. For those that prefer Patton to be out on a limb, pushing his vocals to the limit of what sounds human, this is a situation that can only ever disappoint. However, there are plenty of projects that should sate such needs, and Tomahawk is one of those occasions where it’s a pleasure to hear him sounding like a conventional Rock vocalist. With the re-booting of Faith No More fairly uncertain for the time being (last year’s gigs were a cheeky tease if nothing else) Tomahawk represents Patton’s least anarchic current project. As such, it’s a chance to revel in one of Rock’s finest, and most readily identifiable vocalists doing what he does best.
As for Oddfellows, it’s a sturdy rock/metal album with no real surprises, and not nearly as odd as its title might suggest. This is not, as might be expected, a particular hindrance. In fact, it’s one of Oddfellows strengths. With no pressure to be strange, the band is clearly focused on making succinct and unnerving tunes that cut to the chase quickly. Take Stone Letter, the recent Black Friday single for example, there’s not an ounce of fat on it. It keeps the dynamics simple, alternating between Denison’s twitchy clean guitar sound and all out bombast with ruthless efficiency.
Patton keeps it fairly straight, allowing the construction of his melodies to take centre stage rather than his technique. South Paw follows a similar path and is arguably the most impressive thing Tomahawk has done in some time. Veering between a simplistic but urgent riff and a sinister low-key surf guitar line, it constantly lurches forward and back, swinging punches and hitting its target every single time. Patton’s vocal is dreamy and threatening, as he switches between emotions effortless and delivers a chorus that is pure perfection.
Elsewhere, it is fair to say that Tomahawk has created an album that is sonic equivalent of Film Noir. It is tonally creepy, full of shadows and endlessly clever reveals. More often than not, this mood is established by the strange creeping guitars of Denison which seem to stretch out in the darkness and hang in the air like the smoke from Marlow’s cigar. On their own they create a phenomenal sense of foreboding (check out the almost tidal wash of I Can Almost Seen Them) but when when coupled with daunting piano motifs (I.O.U.), Stanier’s reserved drumming (A Thousand Eyes), or Patton’s jazz club crooning (the Mr Bungle-esque Rise Up Dirty Waters) they become utterly immersive.
Oddfellows then is a fairly straightforward album, although it possesses enough personality and deftness of touch to bear repeated listens. Those who found Anonymous to be a bit of a struggle will most certainly find normal service resumed here.