Tomahawk: Mit Gas

Stephen Haag


Mit Gas

Label: Ipecac
US Release Date: 2003-05-06
UK Release Date: 2003-05-12

Man, oh man, is Mike Patton talented, but that talent has never translated into stardom. Perhaps the general populace is put off by his depraved lyrics or they just can't keep up with his prodigious musical output in his various incarnations. No matter what the explanation, Patton has never had more than a small, devoted cult audience. Whether inadvertently kick-starting rap-metal with Faith No More, getting in touch with his inner Frank Zappa in Mr. Bungle, or just indulging whatever warped muse he answers to with Fantômas, Patton has always made challenging music that not enough people hear. That streak continues with Mit Gas, the sophomore disc from his latest band, Tomahawk, released on Patton's label, Ipecac Recordings.

It's not as though Patton and his bandmates Duane Dennison (guitar, as well as the band's leader), John Stanier (drums), and Kevin Rutmanis (bass) are worried about their lack of accessibility. All have pulled tours of duty with underground acts (Jesus Lizard, Helmet, and the Melvins, respectively) and they're more interested in technical precision and absurdity than they are with selling records. Heck, the first single off Mit Gas is titled "Rape This Day". Good luck finding that on your radio dial.

But there does exist a viable market hungry for the type of twisted metal Tomahawk plays, and Patton acknowledges that in the opening lyric of the first track, "Birdsong": "I'll feed you now", he growls, employing one of the half-dozen vocals tics in his arsenal. That's one of the rare instances where anything can be ascertained from Patton's inscrutable lyrics. As a recent New York Times concert review of Tomahawk noted, "[Patton] doesn't believe that rock is about honesty, about laying oneself bare, about truth and getting under the skin of his listeners. For him, it is entirely about artifice, and much of it specifically about vocal techniques." Could delivery of lines like "the diaphragm of a nation" (from "Rape This Day") and the übercreepy/funny "I am the harelip / Give me one more kiss" ("Harelip") be what makes Patton a standout and drives away potential fans? Again, Patton doesn't appear to care.

But even if one can't get past Patton's skewed lyrics and hell-torched delivery, there's no denying he's surrounded himself with ace musicians. Dennison, Stanier, and Rutmanis generally stick to heavy-as-hell faux-death metal, with an innovative twist on nearly every track. Horror-movie keyboards welcome the listener to "Rape This Day", while "You Can't Win" veers close to California-era Mr. Bungle with its surfed-out guitars and its tendency to change gears at the drop of a hat. The band buzzes around Patton as he unveils his deepest, cartooniest bass voice. Meanwhile, "Mayday" sound like a haunted submarine (there's no other way to describe it) with agitated guitars and Patton's fuzzed-out voice jumping from speaker to speaker before the evil clears for the chorus and the band sounds like, of all groups, Foo Fighters. It's the album's most accessible 30 seconds.

The band throws in a few curveballs as well. Most notable is "Desastre Natural", a gentle waltz sung in Spanish, that would sound out of place where except a Mike Patton album. If the inclusion of this track doesn't convince you of Patton's demented brilliance, then you'll never be swayed. The same could be said for Mit Gas's final two tracks, "Harlem Clowns" and "Aktion F1413". The former is a mostly instrumental exercise that gives the musicians a chance to shine out from under Patton's vocals, though they do have to contend with a looped sound clip that insists "I don't know how to read notes". (It's not as funny as Patton's "This beat could win me a Grammy" off "Pop 1" from Tomahawk's self-titled debut, but it's a decent joke nevertheless.) "Harlem Clowns" ends with a laundry list of seemingly unrelated musicians being read off -- the band being weird for weirdness' sake.

Album closer "Aktion F1413" plays like Patton's answer to Radiohead's "Fitter, Happier" interlude, as a computer-modulated voice offers "The Basic Principles of Hand-to-Hand Combat". (Rule number one, "Be aggressive" namechecks a track from Faith No More's Angel Dust, for what it's worth.) Intercut between these rules is Patton's least anguished singing, but lest one think Tomahawk's gone soft, the album ends with an overmodulated guitar and drum assault.

Not that there was ever any doubt, given his track record, but Mit Gas delivers the goods for Patton's small, devoted cult audience hungry for rock. If you're not a Tomahawk devotee, wait a week and Patton'll probably have released another album. Maybe you'll like that one instead. In the meantime, Achtung! Mit Gas!

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.