Album Review: Tomahawk’s Tonic Immobility

Tomahawk have come and gone at various points over the past two decades. In fact, the press release contends that they “show up just when we just need them.” A kind of alt-rock supergroup, their current lineup includes the legendary Mike Patton (of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) on vocals and sampler alongside guitarist and co-founder Duane Dennison (of The Jesus Lizard), John Stainer (of Helmet) on drums, and Trevor Dunn (also of Mr. Bungle) on bass duties.

Tonic Immobility is Tomahawk’s fifth album, and their first since 2013’s Oddfellows. The band have returned here as energised and fiery as ever. Right from the beginning, the music strikes a delightfully satisfying balance between accessible modern rock and oddball progressive weirdness.

The supremely talented Mike Patton shape-shifts second-by-second through wildly varied vocal styles — from guttural growls and jagged screams to smooth crooning — that all somehow have his signature all over them. Patton repeatedly showcases his rare ability to be absolutely silly while still making vital contributions to serious pieces of music.

A plethora of catchy choruses and classic rock riffs make the record instantly memorable. There are also passages of angular and erratic noise rock and psychedelic wig-out solos. Notwithstanding these nods towards experimentalism, only one of the 12 songs breaks the four-minute mark. It feels like the band are allowing themselves to go in whatever direction they want musically while also consciously keeping each statement concise and cohesive alongside the others. As such, you are never quite sure what’s going to happen next but, when it does, it fits like the next piece in a surreal jigsaw puzzle.

There aren’t any throwaway songs here — the whole album is consistently strong — but there are several notable highlights. Album opener “SHHH!” alternates between odd staccato prog passages and blistering riffs with a huge instant-classic chorus. “Predators and Scavengers” has an urgent and driving beat, over which discordant riffs and Patton’s myriad vocal styles weave intoxicatingly. “Business Casual” (released as a single) nods towards post-hardcore with its growled hook line, scuzzy bass and massive guitar riffs. “Fatback” reaches a tremendously menacing climax with a deliciously weird guitar solo from Dennison. “Eureka” heads into ambient territory, with Patton’s lush harmony vocals blooming out from a strangely uplifting synth and guitar soundscape. “Dog Eat Dog” (another single) closes the album with a blistering slab of slightly off-kilter heavy punk rock that is again full to the brim with strong melodies and hooks.

Melodic without sacrificing noise, catchy and concise yet also progressive and experimental, Tonic Immobility straddles the gap between pop and avant-garde. Mike Patton is constantly and consistently entertaining, and the music emanates a life-affirming vitality throughout this wonderfully weird yet intensely immediate record.

Tonic Immobility is released on 26th March 2021 via Ipecac Recordings. Preorder the album here.

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