After tapping into Native American influences for 2007’s “Anonymous,” Tomahawk shifts into more of a cowboy mode for the new “Oddfellows.” However, these are campfire songs only if that campfire is in a David Lynch-directed spaghetti western starring Rob Zombie.
The experimental Tomahawk is something of an alt-rock supergroup consisting of veterans from bands such as Mr. Bungle, Helmet and Fantomas. But it’s frontman Mike Patton, best known for his work as the lead vocalist of Faith No More, who commands the spotlight.
That’s not to discount the considerable contributions of Tomahawk co-founder/guitarist Duane Denison, who brings a multi-dimensional, sometimes-jazz flavor to “Oddfellows,” or drummer John Stanier and new bass player Trevor Dunn, who provide rhythms that are alternately primal and surreal.
It’s simply that the chameleonic Patton drives the tone, his mercurial persona and delivery usually matching, though occasionally contradicting, the brooding, smart-rock arrangements that border on performance art.
Rather than use soft passages as a rote setup for explosive songs – as per the formula for hard-edge rock – “Oddfellows” savors the subtleties and textures, and outbursts from Patton and Denison are more the exception than the norm.
Sure, cuts like the electro-galloping opener “Typhoon” and the squalling “The Quiet Few” (that escalates into a stormy blowout) max out on adrenaline. Yet “Oddfellows” is most memorable for its bubbling simmer, the spooky sprawl of “A Thousand Eyes,” the menacing undercurrent of “Choke Neck” and the drunken buzz of the title track. And Patton reinvents himself appropriately, employing a low growl for the noir ballad “Baby Let’s Play_,” which opens with, “Baby let’s play dead/I got a hole in my head.” He fumes in the raw “South Paw,” “You rub me so wrong, please keep your clothes on,” and he’s caught in an irresistible, modulated sway of “White Hats/Black Hats.” And between his sneer and fear, he doles out humor, as when he declares on “I.O.U.,” “I owe you a love song, for everything I’ve done wrong.”
The composite effect of this ever-transforming soundscape of songs is the equivalent to taking an erratically paced journey with an acquaintance whose motives are as uncertain as his moods are unpredictable.
So those who easily surrender to the allure of the unknow n will find reward in this well-executed diversion.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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