Tomahawk - Tonic Immobility [Ipecac Recordings - 2021]
Dissonant, groovy rock band Tomahawk began in 1999, a project of Faith No More / Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton and guitarist Duane Dennison (of classic noise rock band Jesus Lizard) that also included Helmet drummer John Stanier. Their last album was their 4th, Oddfellows in 2013, and so I was surprised to hear this new album, Tonic Immobility would be coming out this year in 2021.
It's strange for me to be in an era of such infrequent releases from Mike Patton, one of the most manically prolific musicians throughout most of my childhood and early adult life, whose constant output I took for granted. This 2021 album is the first I've heard from him since the Faith No More reunion album Sol Invictus in 2016, his output in the interim was seemingly limited to the re-recording of Mr Bungle’s The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo, soundtrack work and a single collaborative album (with Jean-Claude Vannier).
The aforementioned FNM reunion Sol Invictus is the closest reference for the sound of this album/band, which no longer strikes much of a contrast with his other rock line up Faith No More, as both bands are delivering a form of twangy, world-weary desert rock with plodding post-punk groove. I would be inclined to say it was Faith No More who came closer to Tomahawk, as time went on, as the riffs and grooves on this album aren't a drastic departure from the original Tomahawk album in 2001.
In a way, Patton has done what fans always begged him to do, focusing on songwriting and melody in the rock idiom rather than so many experimental one-off projects, and yet somehow I expect this result will not satisfy those long-time fans either, as the entire character of Patton's voice and persona has changed into a foreboding, raspy whisper, leaving behind the exaggerated cartoonish snazziness of his youth. Irony is still present in his lyrics and delivery, but not enough to make one laugh, or to make the song feel like a joke. Patton has become something of a bluesman, with Tom Waits as a primary influence, and any absurdism left in his style functions primarily as social commentary. This transformation began as early the 2nd Tomahawk album Mit Gas, where Patton's voice first exhibited the grit heard here, and began taking on some influence from friends / touring partners Melvins, and the vocals of their singer Buzz.
This is both the single darkest and most bitter album in Patton's catalogue, and also the most political. I have perhaps heard no other album that sums up the stagnant feeling of this 'pandemic' era like this album does. It is the sound of losing hope, of tension building with nowhere to be released. Though nothing is stated too literally, most of the lyrics on this album are directly relatable to recent events, with the general theme of "Doomsday Fatigue", which is both a song on the album ("Unhappy all the time / sometimes the truth don't rhyme"), and also a phrase repeated throughout the other songs. Some of the lyrics on the album are painfully blunt self-deprecation, with the numerous references to masturbation, directionlessness and being poor ("Fat, dumb and poor / Who will scrape you off the floor?). The passive helplessness is perhaps best expressed by the line, "I consume everything the world shoves in my face". There are lines that fall flat or follow the obvious rhyme choice, but overall the brooding sincerity of the album is unmistakable.
Duane Dennison's dirty blues guitar style is still distinct, though I don't think these would be among his most memorable riffs presented on their own. His dissonance has been significantly tamed since the Jesus Lizard days. Truly, it is Patton who animates this album into the emotional piece it is, and I think the dire circumstances of its creation elevated it to a more poignant level than the FNM reunion Sol Invictus, which felt all too brief, perhaps incomplete, posing a question subsequently answered by this album. This may not be the manic, fun Mike Patton of my youth, but I'm sure glad he's still here, doing this.Josh Landry