Back in the Saddle Again
It’s been six years since the skin-walker tribalism of Anonymous, and now the Mike Patton–Duane Denison collab, Tomahawk, has returned with its fourth LP, Oddfellows, which plays like a dauntless 70–30 split of cowboy hellion riffs and ambient trail-hopping. Exiting bass player Kevin Rutmanis has been capably replaced by Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantômas), who metes out spindly and direct lines with equal commitment—while the rest of the band flexes its genre muscles in a cross-training potpourri of spaghetti Western, Southern metal and Pink Panther jazz. Oddfellows, indeed.
The self-titled opener brings new meaning to Pantera’s classic notion of Cowboys from Hell, with guitarist Denison weaving an odd diminished line over a pummeling mid-tempo churn. Patton grunts with a heavily echoed voice amid the song’s imbalanced verse, only to break with a sudden scream: “They call us Oddfellows!” The album’s alt-metal weirdness dependably—and likeably—wheezes and mutates from one form to the next, achieving something close to romance in “I.O.U.”—where Patton bellows, “I owe you a love song/For everything I’ve done wrong”—only to unspool with the metal moralizing of “White Hat Black Hat.” Then comes the absurdist clown jazz of “Rise Up Dirty Waters,” where West Side Story and a leather-daddy Ennio Morricone are tossed in a blender set to frappé. And so help me, it works.
Which can be said of Oddfellows altogether. Even during the space-sex grind of “Southpaw” or the tumbleweed goth of “I Can Almost See Them,” never do you find yourself wincing at too many flights of fancy or boredom-induced left turns. Patton and company have found “Goldie Locks weird,” that assured ratio of abnormality gleaned from countless bouts of musical experimentation. Maybe it took a 6-year hibernation for Tomahawk to dream up such a balance, but their latest is marked by an almost restrained strangeness—resulting in another honest pouch of lean and nutritive jerky for one weird-ass wagon trail.