Balls. Brains. Guts.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with rock music for the better part of my life. It’s the genre I feel the strongest about, whether that particular emotion be positive or negative. It’s a style of music defined by it’s limitations (vocals, guitars, drums, MAYBE keys and that’s pretty much it) yet there are a number of acts out there that manage to transcend these self-imposed boundaries to create music that is truly unique and forward-thinking. Over the past decade or so of critical thinking about these things, I’ve found that three qualities can usually define whether or not a “rock” band creates music that is actually worth listening to; because for every Queen’s of the Stone Age that our generation manages to produce, there are at least a dozen Black Keys that really blow and make me hate the mere notion of a white dude with a guitar and a sense of propriety. Anyway, let me quickly explain these qualities.
Balls: This isn’t really the right word for what I’m talking about, but the added alliteration is always awesome. I’m not referring to literal testes; an all-girl group could have Balls in the sense that I’m using the word. What this term encompasses is the sort of confident swagger that is essential to a successful rock group. That belief in themselves that the musicians have that they can play and perform the hell out of anyone else. A great band sets out to make an impression and a band that has Balls will stop at nothing to ensure that they do so. If a band just really fucking rocks and you have absolutely no control over your physical self when their music comes on, then you know that band has a lot of Balls. Very Ballsy band example: the aforementioned Queens of the Stone Age.
Brains: If “rock” was just about jamming out and givin’ er, it would have died out as a genre a long time ago. Sure, there’s nothing wrong whatsoever about rocking out, its just that the same way of doing so time and time again would eventually get boring. That’s why, over the past 60 years or so, musicians have had to become more and more creative about how they were going to bring the party fodder. Experimentation in rock has kept it fresh and alive longer than just about any other genre of popular music. The Brains of a band is the band’s willingness to embrace ideas outside of the norm in order to further their own craft. Somewhere between the 50’s and now, someone realized that rock could be about more than just making people happy and horny; that it had every right to capital-A Art status as any other type of music. Very Brainy band example: who the hell do you think? Radiohead.
Guts: Think of Guts as the ego to the Balls’ id and the Brains’ super-ego. The Gutsiness of a band is its ability to combine its Balls and its Brains; basically, its the band’s ability to pull it all off. Do you remember when Linkin Park released that (MASSIVE scare-quotes here) “concept album” that ended up being one of the biggest messes in modern rock history? God was that ever a disaster. That is a prime example of what happens when Balls and Brains decide to go at it without the proper facilitation of Guts. It didn’t work, mostly because you could tell that the band themselves weren’t even really sure of what they were doing. Too much Balls or Brains causes a noticeable imbalance and is bad for a band, so Guts are needed to keep it all in check and make sure that the band is actually capable of persuading you of their sound. When I think of really Gutsy bands, I can’t help but think about Tomahawk.
Tomahawk is a super-group. Don’t run! Its not nearly as bad as it sounds. Instead of being an obvious move for car commercial material (HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, AUDIOSLAVE) Tomahawk is a group put together out of sheer love of the game. Each of its members are from some of the most respected heavy music groups of the 90’s (Faith No More, The Jesus Lizard, Helmet, Mr. Bungle, the Melvins if you’re counting ex-bassist Kevin Rutmanis), so the band’s materialization makes a lot of sense really. Tomahawk was formed after the desolation of both Bungle and Faith No More at the end of the 90’s. With his two primary musical outputs put to rest, Mike Patton found himself with a lot more time on his hands than he was used to. I could write an entire textbook on the importance of Mr. Patton on modern heavy music and how much I love him, but you can check out my blog philishotforpatton.tumblr.com if that’s what you really want out of this review. Suffice it to say that he is kind of a big deal, so when Duane Denison of the fucking Jesus Lizard contacted him about maybe starting a band, this was many a fanboy’s dream come true so it had better not fuck up.
It didn’t. The first two Tomahawk albums were some of the most bizarre manifestations of modern rock that still managed to be better than everything else it could be vaguely compared to and then, in a move that makes a lot more sense now than it did then, Tomahawk released an album of ‘rock versions of traditional Native American songs’. What will never make sense is the fact that it actually WORKED. Remember what I said about Guts? You need, like, miles of viscera in order to pull that off, but they did and that was the last anyone heard of Tomahawk for a long time.
Its important to note that in the years since Anonymous, their Native
American music album, Patton hasn’t really done anything worth noting. This is a guy who, since ‘89, has been consistently releasing some of the best, most groundbreaking music year after year and then after Anonymous, he more or less vanished off the face of the Earth. This being his highest profile release in 6 years, it exists to some people as a testament to the relevance of Patton. What place does such a cryptic figure as Patton have in this over-saturated age of information? After six long years, it has been hard not to have our doubts.
Thankfully, Oddfellows exists not only as a testament to the timeless value of Mike Patton, but to the timelessness of rock music itself. With this record, Tomahawk have (mostly) dropped the highly experimental nature of Anonymous in favour of a more straight-forward, hard-hitting sound. It feels as though the band had sensed the ever-stagnating nature of current rock music and this record feels like the reaction to this. Because I mean, really, think about it. When’s the last time you heard a really fuckin’ great rock song? This album exists as the ailment to this malaise, packing track after track of sinister yet catchy hard rock gems. When we interviewed current bassist Trevor Dunn about this album, he said that the main influence in Oddfellows was probably Tomahawk themselves, which makes sense considering this album could be mistaken for no other band. Musically, it sounds like a direct combination of the creepiness of their self titled first release and the anthemic nature of their second Mit Gas, with just a dash of the tribal influence of the their third Anonymous. It’s a great culmination for the band and rebirth for Patton, which is thankful because it’s times like these that we need him the most. Times like these: all the time. because he is a god!
Balls. Brains. Guts… Glory.
Ridiculous Made-Up Genre of the Day: Morriconian dusk rock