Noise-rock supergroup Tomahawk went literal with 2007’s Anonymous, an uneven disc inspired by traditional Native American music. Since then, ringleader Mike Patton drafted bassist Trevor Dunn (a frequent collaborator of Patton’s in Mr. Bungle and Fantômas) to round out the roster of Anonymous’ follow-up, Oddfellows. The longstanding chemistry between the two has worked wonders. Where previous Tomahawk releases have various strengths and weaknesses, they often seem like the sound of four men—including Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison and Helmet/Battles drummer John Stanier—locked in a room and fighting to find common ground. By joking around. Loudly.
Oddfellows doesn’t reject anything Tomahawk has done before. It just does it better. The self-titled opening track is as simmering and sinister as anything off of 2001’s Tomahawk, only here Denison’s sinuous riffs do the heavy lifting rather then the jittery, trebly lines of former bassist Kevin Rutmanis. Rutmanis’ final contribution to Tomahawk, 2003’s Mit Gas, called for that kind of tightly coiled counterpoint. But Oddfellows is a more spacious yet substantial affair, with Dunn tipping bottled thunder into the fuel tank. On “White Hats/Black Hats,” a chugging rhythm digs shards of metal from its innards while Patton cackles and croons in tongues. “Rise Up Dirty Waters” revives the walking bass and jazzy undertow of Tomahawk’s “Jockstrap,” but instead of sounding like a prank, it’s a twanging, raging mirage. And the hammering savagery of “South Paw” taps into the blues-skronk of Denison’s Jesus Lizard prime without overpowering Patton’s sensually damaged, smirkingly delivered plea to “Please keep your clothes on / You rub me so wrong.”
Tomahawk is ultimately Patton’s show, and he doesn’t shrink from it. Throughout Oddfellows, he twists familiar phrases—and his own familiar leaps of vocal texture and tone—into something both sarcastic and celebratory. It’s as though his virtuosic, deconstructive glee has finally found some measure of peace with itself. And with the idea of just flat-out rocking the fuck out of a good song. “You don’t know me, know me anymore,” he howls on “Stone Letter,” a stunningly catchy and accessible shout-along that draws more from Queens Of The Stone Age than any of the singer’s more abrasive tendencies.
That’s Oddfellow’s overriding vibe, as well as its greatest asset: tighter songs and sturdier structures, with more room left for atmosphere, exploration, and subversion within them. Even at its previous best, Tomahawk had failed to summon a wholly distinct voice among Patton’s multiple musical personalities. It was always a project in progress, a jam session abandoned to its own devices. Twelve years and four albums into its stop-start existence, though, it’s done something unexpected: jelled into an actual band. And an amazing one at that.