You people are getting SPOILED today. Basically, when I started writing these entries, I had a little list of records that I owned to write about (along with my constant search for something underground and worthwhile). What I noticed right off the bat was the fact that a good five of those records were masterminded by Mike Patton. I’ve already written about one of those, the sumptuous Mondo Cane, but for repetition’s sake I’m going to write about three of them here. There’s more to cover (his Adult Themes For Voice, a guttural scream/throat experiment album, is SOMETHING), but these three cover very far-reaching aspects of his musicianship, and in sounding nothing like each other, work well together… You get me?
“Fantomas” – Suspended Animation
If you went to secondary school between 2006 and 2011, odds are you probably heard mentioned, or whispered, or whatever, rumours of a certain little shock video called The BME Pain Olympics. Maybe you even got to see it; if you did, you did, and that’s okay man. Nobody liked that weird Tyler kid with his dubious porn anyway. If you didn’t, don’t. Just don’t. It’s grim. Grim in hitherto unheard of ways. I won’t describe it; I can’t. Just imagine “depravity”.
This album was, I found out more recently than I’m comfortable with, the soundtrack to the Pain Olympics. And it works, in a weird way. Fantomas are a supergroup, consisting of Patton, Trevor Dunn (the drummer for other Patton project Mr Bungle; watch this space), Buzz Osbourne from Melvins, and Dave Lombardo from Slayer. I can only characterise this album as “cartoon drone”, since it flip-flops from fragments of Scooby-Doo-esque exaggerated comedy noises, and then punishing, gruelling, violent drone. It’s a concept album to boot, too, with 31 songs each covering a day in April. The CD even has a little ring-bound calendar with some pretty interesting concept art from Yoshitomo Nara, a talented Japanese artist.
The music is… indescribable, but awe-inspiring. It’s such a bizarre take on the drone album, but sustained so well and so inventively, that you can’t help but be dragged along. This one in particular has exceptionally fond memories for me, since it was the first album I remember listening to that did away with not just conventional song structure, but with melody and harmony and all those other things, and yet still sounded impressive. Like it had merit; and it does have merit. This is an excellent, painful, brave disc that holds no prisoners and will leave you spellbound.
Hilariously, this is the complete opposite of….
“Kaada/Patton” – Romances
This 2004 effort is a collaboration between Patton and Norwegian artist “Kaada”; it’s also, in a way, a concept album, in which the pair found the names of old, long-since gone French songs, and tried to create music around what they thought those songs would sound like. This could not be further removed from Fantomas, and the only way I can describe it is “extremely baroque”. This is some haunted, but beautiful stuff, soulful, entirely unironic, and absolutely beautiful.
Take track two, Pitie Pour Mes Larmes, a crawling, spidery, almost-ballad, which toys with crescendo and release in a most naughty manner. It showcases Patton at his most soulful, and the way he croons “one for the money and you’re gone/I knew it from the start”, followed by that operatic piano arpeggio and the upwards string rush, has never failed to give me goosebumps, and has even bought a little tear to my eye on occasion.
This is undeniably a peak on the album, and the rest of the disc plays with it’s self-styled mega-weird sort of uber-chamber-string mix (outside of “chamber” and “baroque”, I’ve got very little to describe this thing; it sounds what it sounds like). Aubade is an 11 minute ghostly odyssey, full of Patton’s whistles and taut strings and drawn-out violin refrains. L’Absent sounds like a cut from a soundtrack to an avant-garde Alice in Wonderland film, with its ticking percussion and snaking bass drum, all over-laid with Patton’s croons. Crepuscule is an abandoned ship level of an adventure video-game (in a good way).
Viens, Les Gazons Sont Verts is probably the weirdest cut, a 7 minute adventure that sounds like the dead being playfully re-animated, before a saloon harmonica and gunshots come in and disrupt it, and then some Eastern percussion comes and ruins that, and then… You get the idea. Seule almost sounds like a Radiohead demo, heavy on the reverb and the mournful chord work, and then Patton’s similarly mournful vocals. It’s got build and drive, and with a darkness lingering in the background like a heavy fog. Pensee Des Morts is almost musique-concrete, scattered drums and very little unifying music in the centre. Then, Nuit Silencieuse comes in to round it all off, a dark and moody chamber piece (again), that follows its threads, makes way for Patton’s opera impression, and fades away.
As an album, it details its sound, and then follows that to its end. It’s brilliant, a brilliant counterpoint to Suspended Animation, and along with that record showcase two very different sides to one very brilliant artist.
Words: Declan Cochran