Mike Patton is something of a musical polymath. Away from the two main bands he’s known for lie all sorts of musical diversions, all coloured with varying degrees of strangeitude. One of them, but probably not the oddest (that’s Fantomas) is the band tētēma. This spiky collective lurk around the fringes of dark industrial ambience and avant metal like a hungry prairie wolf about to pounce. Veering from alt-croonage and wild screams, the song All Signs Uncovered showcases Patton’s weird muse, to a sub-Tom Waits-through-a-mirror-darkly backing of cut up rhythms and strange percussion. This song sums up the album, in that it is compulsive, and yet totally unclassifiable listening, despite my befuddled attempt to do just that, earlier in this by now unwieldy paragraph. You see, that’s the effect this music has on me. It all hangs together in the most unexpected fashion, hopefully reflected in this doggerel.
Formed around Patton, and Australian pianist, composer, and electro-acoustic musician Anthony Pateras, the duo are joined here by violinist Erkki Veltheim and drummer Will Guthrie to complete a formidable quartet that will confound your expectations, and still manage to put a big grin on yer fizzog. As the PR blurb rightly says “listening to Necroscape creates the weird sensation of exclaiming ‘of course!’ and ‘wtf?’ simultaneously”.
This is tētēma’s second album, and is no less wilfully abstract than the thoroughly dystopian debut Geocidal, which was released at the end of 2014, and since then the intrepid duo have been bolstered by Veltheim and Guthrie, and a tighter, proper band unit is the result. Pateras’s loops and exotic electronica, melded together with Patton’s extraordinary and exploratory vocals are underpinned by Guthrie’s expressive polyrhythms. Veltheim’s violin is so embellished as to be mostly unrecognisable as such, but I assume his contribution is writhing about in the psychedelic stew somewhere.
The driving bass line of Wait ’Till Morning is the undercurrent for mournful moans of distant calls to prayer, Patton’s vocal tics and suppressed snarls sounding for all the world like a cave-troll noisily eating carrion for dinner, then a tribal chant becomes the impressionistic melody that eventually takes over, before the tune abruptly ends. Classify that if you can!
Elsewhere metal riffs and chants make brief appearances over the whirlpool of electronica and the gamut of percussive derring-do, while Patton either sings or screams his way to some rarely disturbed dark, dark corner of the listener’s imagination. Occasional subtlety is a surprise, such as Patton briefly putting on his “come hither” suggestive voice in Milked Out Million. The machines take over with manic glee on Soliloquy. Through all this there is an underlying positive energy to the album that points to the creators of this absorbing racket having had a whale of time laying it down across the interwebs.
Sun Undone sees our intrepid quartet let go of all Earthly bounds, in a real headfuck of swirling sonics, pulsing synth undercurrents, complex percussives, and Patton’s musings on… well, something. I was never the best at unravelling lyrics, as a small child I thought Roy Orbison was singing about “Freddy Woman” after all, and I never really improved in that department. Added to that, Patton’s vocals are often rendered indecipherable, so I can’t really comment on his lyrics. Suffice to say, a lyric sheet is sorely needed! His voice is often used as simply another blanket layer of instrumentation to get lost under.
Patton gets to sing softly in his beloved Italian for the final track Funerale Di Un Contadino, an alt-funeral march for the downtrodden that ends the album in a curiously understated fashion.
If you’re a fan of Mike Patton’s many-tentacled muse, you don’t need me to tell you that you need this album. If all this is new to you, why not jump right in?
01. Necroscape (2:53)
02. Cutlass Eye (2:19)
03. Wait Till Mornin’ (3:05)
04. Haunted On The Uptake (3:07)
05. All Signs Uncensored (3:10)
06. Milked Out Million (3:09)
07. Soliloquy (2:44)
08. Flatliner’s Owl (1:16)
09. Dead Still (4:14)
10. Invertebrate (1:58)
11. We’ll Talk Inside A Dream (4:22)
12. Sun Undone (4:00)
13. Funerale Di Un Contadino (4:12)
Total Time – 40:29
Will Guthrie – Drums
Anthony Pateras – Electronics, Synthesizers
Mike Patton – Voice
Erkki Veltheim – Violin, Mandolin
Record Label: Ipecac Recordings
Date of Release: 3rd April 2020