Melbourne-based electro-acoustic musician Anthony Pateras has a way with words. Take, for example, the colorful context he sets in advance/press materials for “Haunted on the Uptake” from Necroscape, the sophomore LP of the group Pateras fronts alongside carnival barker extraordinaire Mike Patton. “Sounds like the Melvins’ tour van broke down in the Balkans, and instead of going home, they decide to open a mountain laboratory dedicated to possible hybrids of Rembetika and hardcore,” Pateras wrote. “This sounds like the pop music of a youth I wish I’d had, but instead, I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne smoking bongs and listening to Bungle.”
If only the music lived up to the wordsmithing and the fanfare.
tētēma’s new record is not a record of hits; instead, it unfolds in Bizarro chapters as a catalog of misses. The group – a quartet again, as it was on 2014’s excellent Geocidal – flesh out some interesting sonic touches and have a grasp on ambiance, sure. But, sadly, the compliments have to end there. The record displays a lot of misguided or, at its best, loose-limbed experimentation, especially in the production department. (Some of it is cut with wool in your ears.) Though Patton growls and belches and whispers and barks with his usual fervor, most of the record registers as pretty cold and sometimes-lifeless, so cold it feels like it’s being captured under the frosted-glass ceiling of a frozen lake.
There are interesting moments. “Wait Til Mornin'”, the first song Pateras and Patton wrote for the new LP, has a delicious groove to it and a bass line worth sampling, for one. But tētēma never actually send much of an overall message of engagement. Songs like the opening title track or “Sun Undone” aren’t just sadly misguided; they’re boring, and that’s a big criticism for a musician once in a band as colorful as Mr. Bungle.
To be fair, the record occasionally struggles to redeem itself. “Haunted on the Uptake”, which features some wonderfully arhythmic drum work from Will Guthrie, is an inviting blast of industrial machinations, complete with the yowling Patton has perfected with groups like Dead Cross or as the guest frontman for Dillinger Escape Plan. The best-of-the-bunch “We’ll Talk Inside a Dream”, the tētēma of 2020 at its most bombastic, features both over-the-top drum thrash from Guthrie and some great rhythmic patter, occasionally hinting at the hip-hop spit-takes through which he rose to fame, from Patton. “Dead Still” is an acid-trip nursery rhyme – that being, you know, a good thing – and Patton’s plain-speak and the haunted piano definitely will do a number on your senses.
Then again, a song like “Invertebrate”, which barely gets off the ground during its two-minute run-time, illustrates everything that’s wrong with the LP. Pateras and Patton flash some interesting, mostly electronic texture (a twinkle here, a moan there), but Patton’s vocals don’t offer the drama or aural fireworks they do when he’s in his best form. If I wanted to listen to subtle sound that blurs the lines between the organic and the synthetic, I’d listen to Pan-American. When you bring Patton to a project, for whatever it’s worth, there are certain expectations of acrobatics. (For example, turn to his guest spot with Milk Cult on 1994’s Burn or Bury.) Most of Necroscape isn’t exactly a letdown. I’m sad to report it just doesn’t quite deliver the goods.