After a nearly six-year absence, Tomahawk– Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, Helmet/Battles drummer John Stanier, Fantomas/Melvins bassist Trevor Dunn, and Mike Patton– have returned with their fourth LP. Recorded with Black Keys producer Collin Dupuis, Oddfellows has been touted as the band’s most straightforward release to date.
Oddfellows, eh? Yeah, that just about covers it. After a nearly six-year absence, art-metal megatron Tomahawk— Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, Helmet/Battles drummer John Stanier, Fantmas/Melvins bassist (and newest recruit) Trevor Dunn, and Mike Patton, man of a million voices and just about as many bands– have returned with Oddfellows their fourth LP. Recorded with Black Keys producer Collin Dupuis at the blooz-rockers’ Nashville studio, Oddfellows has been touted as Tomahawk’s most straightforward, stripped-down release to date. That’s true enough. But a lifetime of weirdness means these four guys are pretty much incapable of doing anything the normal way. So just because Oddfellows doesn’t run quite as crooked as the Tomahawk records that preceded it doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty bent.
Because of scheduling conflicts, Tomahawk records tend to come together quickly; these are not people with a lot of down time. But Oddfellows, written in and recorded in something like four days’ time, was actually the most time-intensive Tomahawk LP so far; in interviews, Nashvillian Denison seems pleased they actually had time to go out and grab a little barbecue between takes. The tension between these guys’ undeniable chops and the all-but-forced spontaneity of this music’s formation is the fuel behind Tomahawk’s fire; even when they’ve barely got half an idea between the four of them, they play the hell out of it. Stanier, as ever, remains rock-solid, yet oddly playful behind the kit; there’s a reason he’s one of the few drummers non-drummers know by name. Dunn– filling the spot Kevin Rutmanis left vacant on 2007’s Anonymous— gets in where he fits in; after all but walking away with Melvins’ fine 2012 LP Freak Puke, Dunn hangs back here, ably holding down the low end without overasserting himself. It’s Denison who leads the charge. Practically from the first seconds, his guitar seethes and snaps like a dog on a leash, the riffs lunging at your face, looking to break the skin.
As for Patton, let’s just say age does not appear to be mellowing the man. One minute, he’s on the ground, slithering, saying something vile; the next, he’s pleading, full-throated, desperation on his breath. It’s still a strange kind of thrill, hearing him bounce around a track like this, and if you like what he does, there’s no shortage of the stuff here. Though close listens will turn up plenty of jittery Pattonisms way back in the mix– I’m partial to the cheeky “bum-b-bum-bum” in the otherwise leering “Choke Neck”– the trademark tics mostly take a backseat to what, for Patton, scans as fairly “normal” singing. Still, you throw a yowling Patton against a Denison firecracker like “South Paw” or Oddfellows‘ title track, and you’re pretty much bound to hit something. Denison’s said he’d like Oddfellows, unlike the jitterier, more outwardly experimental Tomahawk LPs that came before, to be the kind of thing you’d want to see on a big stage, beer in hand. With riffs as colossal as the ones under “Oddfellows” and the looser, menage-nodding “Waratorium”, it’s not hard to picture.