Some project come at your sideways, some projects are just meant to be; yet nowadays you get projects where people don't even have to meet to make an album happen. This project featured Mike Patton (Mr Bungle, Faith No More, Peeping Tom), Duane Denison (Jesus Lizard, Assjack), John Stanier (Helmet, Battles) and Kevin Rutmanis (Melvins, Cows). As alternative super groups go, that has some pedigree right there. After sample trading happened for a while between Patton & Denison, they met and got the band together and with that they released them onto the world this debut back in 2001. It came at a time when there was lots going on with the world and it made a few waves (anything that Patton does has some people foaming at the mouth with anticipation). So how has the years been towards this self-title debut from the cream of the strange side of American alternative music.
Starting with “Flashback” we are introduced to a sinister world that took the best parts of all parties involved in regards to its creation; Mr Patton sounds like evil incarnate, Duane Denison drops the riff like it is nails to the heart, Kevin Rutmanis and John Stanier keep the who thing together with an admirable rhythm section that sounds as tight as a nut. Considering this was recorded and via file trading is even more admirable. Whilst it is a good song, it is not breaking boundaries’ for the artist; but this is a small thing. Next is “North 101” which has a sinister overtone than a sonic explosion of “Flashback”; this song stretches Mr Patton’s vocals much further than “Flashback”, Duane Denison sounds as more menacing and the rhythm section of Mr Stanier and Mr Rutmanis keep the song together with a focused drive towards the horizon. The song itself has always been my preferred choice of the two opening numbers due to its desperate lyrics and the uneasy feeling of the song as it starts off slightly normal and then fractures like a plot you would get from Twin Peaks. “Point & Click” is a light/dark dynamic with the bass of Mr Rutmanis driving the song forwards as the synths and guitars take different paths to connect with the audience. You keep getting the feeling that it is going to erupt into a screaming anthem from Mr Patton, but it never reaches the plateau – it does drop the guitars near the end, but it is most a crooning number for the band that continues to deliver the eerie feeling to the audience and does not go as some people would expect – as this is something from Mike Patton, it is exactly as we would expect; unexpected (stay with me on this one). “God Hates a Coward” on the other hand is something that could have easily been released by either Faith No More or Jesus Lizard in their prime (or off the latest Faith No More record); it has that quality that both bands deliver in abundance and it is not that much of a surprise that something on this album sound as if it was created by members of each band – but how does it sound? It sounds fucking fantastic! It has subtle groves for the audience to swim in, it has energy for crowd to have moshed about to when it is performed live and it is one of the highlights of this record.
“Pop 1” is the fourth number of this album which has a Jekyll & Hyde atmosphere about it; it is a song that mocks the production qualities at the time the album was recorded (it could also be used for production qualities now), with a hook line stating that “this beat could win me a Grammy” which is delivered with the expected level of menace and venom that you expect. I have always found it a hard song to love, but it is also a song that I do not hate either. It is just a decent number which hits all the right button, but the results are not what I expected – which has always confused me as I should be loving this, but something this sort of thing happens. The same cannot be said of “Sweet Smell of Success” which is the crowning glory of this album; it is a slow song that is still able to send shivers down my spine and make the world feel the unique mixture of uneasy and blissful in equal measure. The vocals sound sinister, mocking and damn right scary throughout the song, the guitars sound like acid dropping on the flesh with added flashbacks and the rhythm section keep it in a perfect slow pace which ends in feedback – wonderful. The seventh song is called “Sir, Yes Sir” which utilizes the quiet/loud dynamic over a short period to great effect. It is a number which gets stuck in the brain due to the booming chorus section and it is over whilst the crowd will be asking for more. "Jockstrap” starts with a sound drop and a sleazy discussion about underwear whilst the guitars sound as if they are drifting in and out of tune with the world. It does change into a rock number that bounces along with some interesting sounds, but it is when it goes into the eerie sections that this song is at its most interesting – otherwise it is a number which is ok and that is something that does not feel right for this album.
“Cul De Sac” is an interlude track at best with a lot of guitar noises which sound slightly out of tune with each other and Mr Patton sounding as if he was singing through a multitude of trash cans. It is over before it can make enough impression and it is something that could have been extended – but this was not to be. “Malocchio” is the tenth number of the album and it explodes from the beginning and sounds as if it is full of menace and malicious intent; it does feel like the liberated and deranged cousin to “North 101” that has gone on a killing spree for the TV channels, they are in fine form with this song that is another of the crowning moments from Tomahawk and if it was not for “Sweet Smell of Success” it would have been the song of the album. With the sound of helicopters “Honeymoon” starts off and the creepy, low vocals of Mr Patton are mixed in with a minimal drumming, the bass up front and dominate and guitars in the distance. It sounds like it could have been used for a cop movie in the 70’s or a film-noir where the femme fatale is hell bent on destroying the world so she can get another martini, I will be honest it is a number I used to go past but after listening to it for this review it has changed before my eyes. There are little details which come to light that you were not aware of before, noises that seem to come out of nowhere; but they were always there and it makes this another great track from this debut album. The penultimate track is the confusing and still stunning “Laredo” which mixes some stunning acoustic fret work from Duane Denison crazy arse cat bagging lyrics and the right mix of uncomfortable sounds and drumming that feels loose and tight in equal measure (honest, it is one of the performances of the album) to make this one of the more eccentric and outlandish moments on the record – it works really well, maybe a little too well but more on that later). But the album ends up with “Narcosis” which is feels like the end of a trip which is going wrong and is about to get a hell of a lot worse – it is out of tune, place and is something which you cannot help to get lost in, of course I love it.
It has been an awfully long time since I have listened to this album from beginning to finish and even longer since I have listened to it in that much detail; let’s get the main point out of the room – it is an album that still stands after all these years, it has some really good song and Mike Patton and co made an album that is still fresh after all of these years. However there is a ‘but’ to be added and it is really just me being a pretentious fart (even I shake my head at myself at times), I still find it a bit detached and you can sense that this was not created by people in the same room. True, they did meet up to get the product finished and toured with the record afterwards; but it has always seemed a bit too polished for the deranged lunacy that created this work, it feels like it should be off the wall and it feels too clinical. I know I am being awkward here, but it is something that has never really gone away. But this is not saying it is a bad record at all, I still find the sinister edges to be beautiful and you can never say it was not a well-crafted album either. The band would do greater albums as well and it is still holds up overall; I’m just an awkward bugger who wants his cake and to eat it – still check it out as you will not be disappointed, just do not expect the world to change.
7.5 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out
You can purchase the album on Amazon here
There is no Tomahawk web page, but here is a link to their page on the Ipecac Record label
You can follow their activities on Facebook here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
You can stream the album from Deezer here
You can also stream the album from Tidal here