My reviews of albums by Tomahawk.
2001: Tomahawk (8/10)
Almost a streamlined, less ambitious, more “alternative” Faith No More, albeit with a significantly different sound given the change in primary songwriter.
But I guess if you were mourning the demise of FNM at the time, you could do a lot worse than this record. It’s certainly better than the last FNM album – less diverse, but with stronger songs and performances.
When I think about early ’00s alt metal, this is what I think about. And it’s a record I could listen to constantly, which is relatively rare for me. The only thing keeping me from giving it higher marks is that the sequel is somehow better.
2003: Mit Gas (9/10)
The first time I heard this, it felt like a retread of their debut, though it was a retread I thoroughly enjoyed, as their debut is pretty damn great.
But over the years its come to be my favourite album of theirs (though I don’t think it’s their best) – it’s weirder than the debut but it’s still immediate and contains their best songs. It’s really just an onslaught of classic after classic, and It’s hard for me to be objective about it any more.
My #5 album of 2003. Read my reviews of music from 2003.
2007: Anonymous (10/10)
It’s still too early to judge, but I can’t help it. At the time, maybe I was a little unwilling to make this claim. I think this album was heard by the wrong people:
- Tomahawk fans heard it and didn’t hear Tomahawk.
- But contemporary Amerindian music fans probably don’t even know it exists.
Well, as far as I can figure this is a landmark in native American music. Now, I’m not familiar with much. I know Robbie Robertson’s solo stuff. I know Susan Agluclark. I know Rez Blues. Well, this is something else entirely. It’s a massive departure from that stuff. It has the transcendental quality that I’m always ranting about.
It sounds of today – the programming, some of Patton’s singing – but the traditional songs also sound… well, traditional. It sounds of its time and apart from its time like much of the best music. I think people will be talking about this album in fifty or a hundred years, unlike much other music.
Maybe that sounds crazy.
My #1 album of 2007. Read my reviews of 2007 albums.
2013: Oddfellows (7/10)
What I said at the time: Tomahawk’s latest is a return to their original, ‘alt metal’ style after 2007’s Anonymous. (As an aside, I remember the curve-ball that album was to many fans, even though it is one of my favourites of the new century.)
The album gets off to a good start with the title track, which reminds me of early Tomahawk. It’s practically Frippian in its conclusion, with some of Denison’s most frenzied guitar playing. So far it’s clearly the standout for me.
“Stone Letter”, the ‘single’, is significantly less ferocious and sounds like it might have been on the radio sometime in the mid ’90s only its bridge is just too weird.
“I.O.U.” is a ballad fairly atypical of the band; rather it is atypical in that it never explodes like we would expect it too and its smothered in the kind of backing vocals we might expect from late-period Mr. Bungle.
“White Hats / Black Hats” is more in the mode of traditional Tomahawk until those backing vocals come in.
“A Thousand Eyes” is another atypical one, not so much in the sound, which Tomahawk has attempted before, but rather in the lack of anything we can readily identify as “metal” in the chorus.
“Rise up the Dirty Waters” starts off sounding like some kind of bizarre fusion of alternative, loungy bop and surf until the chorus, which definitely brings the song into late Mr. Bungle territory – well, almost…it’s not quite spastic enough.
“The Quiet Few” is perhaps one of the most Tomahawkian tracks, as it sounds like a more restrained version of the Jesus Lizard meeting late period Faith No More with a little bit of Helmet thrown in, which is essentially what Tomahawk is.
““I Can Almost See Them”” is almost reminiscent of the last album in its arrangement if not in the actual song but it’s certainly not related. It feels like a different band entirely than the rest of the album to this point.
“South Paw” begins as one of the most straightforward punk-influenced alternative rock songs on the album until the drastic left-turn into the verse-proper, which that description doesn’t fit at all – it retains the drive of the intro but features a pop vocal and sparse guitar, perhaps out of a film soundtrack. But the chorus returns to the straight-ahead rock music. The song concludes with more frenzied guitar playing from Denison.
“Choke Neck” has a deliberate, almost loungy verse with hard / alternative rock guitar fills that burst out in the chorus – one of the band’s favourite devices.
“Warratorium” has a typical Denisonian chorus riff, but the verse almost sounds like it belongs to Peeping Tom or something – this coming from someone who has barely heard Peeping Tom.
“Baby Let’s Play ____” has a similar Lynchian lounge / surf vibe to a lot of what appears on the album.
As does the intro of “Typhoon”, until it picks up for the verse and chorus, which feel a lot more like classic Tomahawk.
On the whole, the album is significantly less “alt metal” than their first two albums, even though in its sound it somewhat hearkens back to those releases. It feels as though the band has entered a new phase, with enough music reminiscent of their early days to remind fans of what they once were, but with a significant change of direction that at times reminds me of late Mr. Bungle – albeit far less manic, as I said before – merged with some kind of Jesus Lizard thing, only with far more elaborate arrangements than the latter reference would suggest.
I was certainly skeptical of this style at first: I loved Anonymous and I generally love the early albums and I do miss the “metal” aspect of those. But on the other hand I feel like this is a fairly new thing; though I was originally tempted to throw this in with other art-musicians-reviving-alternative-rock projects like Dunn’s MadLove or Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, but as this does revive ’90s alternative rock, it does so in a unique and musically interesting way that remains compelling even without the all-out attack present on so many classic Tomahawk tracks from the early ’00s. The more I listen to it the more I like it. I doubt I will ever love it like I love the rest of their oeuvre, but it’s still pretty good.
December 2013: I haven’t listened to it since. I am not one to constantly revisit an album but my lack of desire to put it on does suggest to me that it never captured me like those early Tomahawk releases. That being said, I have gone all iPod on myself this year, and rarely on whole albums that I own at the moment. But this is their weakest album, even if it is still pretty good for whatever “alternative rock” is supposed to be now.
2021: Tonic Immobility (6/10)
I possibly anticipated this record too much, despite being sort of underwhelmed initially by Oddfellows. (And I’d say I’ve come to like it more than I did on my first listens, but I haven’t listened to it in forever.) There are things about this record that just aren’t completely working for me right now – it sounds like Tomahawk, but like a bit of a pale imitation at times.
As usual, there are no shortage of weird Denison riffs. He’s certainly still full of ideas of how to play guitar (rhythm in particular) in a way that few others do. I’m not sure they’re consistently interesting, but they’re certainly different.
And there’s some level of hooks from Patton but they don’t seem as catchy or immediate, as they are on the other non-Anonymous albums.
The sound is great, as it always is. This is a band that understands record production and that’s very apparent.
I think the thing that most underwhelms so far is actually Patton himself – he sounds older and less versatile. Maybe this is age, maybe this is the material, maybe this is something else. (I noticed it on the Ninja Turtles song too.) And voices change as they age, which isn’t his fault. But he only occasionally tackles his full range (both in terms of octaves and styles) on this record, and the whole thing feels quite restrained, both for this band and his entire oeuvre. And I’m wondering if I would like it more if Patton sold it better.
Of course, this is Denison’s band, and so whatever ambivalence I’m feeling about this record I may eventually track back to a lack of truly great material from him (despite his playing). (If you don’t know their process – especially if you’re one of those people who thinks the vocalist does everything – Denison writes riffs and sends them to Patton who adds vocal melodies and other stuff, and then they record. But I don’t know when the other two guys involve themselves, since everything is done remotely.)
Right now, I want to like this more than I do, because this is my favourite alternative metal band of the 21st century. But something isn’t clicking enough, whether it’s the material or Patton’s restrained performance. Some parts remind me of classic (non-Anonymous) Tomahawk, but not enough of it works for me yet. I think I need to spend some time with the whole discography and see how I feel after that.