Hearing the first track of Tomahawk’s ODDFELLOWS feels comfortable; it’s been a long time. The last Tomahawk album, ANONYMOUS, was a cover album of native American songs – it’s a fantastic album, but it never felt like a Tomahawk record. In fact, it’s been nearly a decade since the last proper Tomahawk album (MIT GAS). ODDFELLOWS is devoid of any of the music that was left on the previous album, so it feels like a genuine return to form: the music is just a creepy, paranoid, and dark as ever.
Tomahawk is regarded as a supergroup, but it’s hard to remember that while you’re listening: Tomahawk feels very much like its own entity. The chief songwriter here is Duane Denison from The Jesus Lizard, and Mike Patton (from Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, etc…) delivers the vocals. Rounding out the rhythm section is John Stanier (from Helmet and Battles) and Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle and Fantomas). It’s worth noting that Dunn is a new member here – Kevin Rutmanis left the band in 2007, but Dunn easily fills his absence. Importantly, despite the time gone and line-up change, this still feels like the same band that recorded MIT GAS.
At this point, I’m not sure that I love any of Tomahawk’s past three albums. They’re definitely good, but I feel like they all have their own bits of fluff and filler. ODDFELLOWS is the most satisfying of Tomahawk records to date. This album has the perfect blend of creepy atmosphere, strong choruses, and jarring transitions. “Stone Letter,” the album’s lead single, is a perfect example of this combination. There are moments that are beautifully dark (“I.O.U”) and others that are as hard-hitting as anything they’ve done so far (“South Paw”). The album’s opening track, “Oddfellows” feels like a perfect way to begin the album and sum up the band as a whole; Mike Patton croons in one of the choruses “we are oddfellows / we only know the odd way.” The sentiment is on-the-spot — I don’t think Tomahawk could write straight-forward music if they wanted to.
In a recent interview, Duane Denison said “I’m more of a minimalist and he [Patton]’s more of a maximalist so we butt heads, but somehow it works.” The band remains a traditional guitar/bass/drums band, but this record gives the feeling that its bursting at the seams with ideas. ODDFELLOWS is cerebral enough to appeal to fans of Mike Patton’s recent output but hard hitting and melodic enough to appeal to fans of his older (Faith No More / Mr. Bungle) work. The best predictor of whether or not you’ll like this album depends on your opinion of the band’s past output – if you enjoyed the previous albums (ANONYMOUS notwithstanding), you’ll love ODDFELLOWS. If the previous albums didn’t do it for you, I’m not sure there’s enough here changed that would sway you otherwise. For what the band has been aiming for, this album feels like they have honed in on their intentions and perfected their sound.
Recommended tracks to sample/download: “Stone Letter” “I.O.U.” and “Southpaw.”