tētēma – Necroscape (Album Review)

In late 2014, we heard from Mike Patton’s bizarre tētēma with their debut offering Geocidal. Alongside fellow oddball Anthony Pateras, The King of All Things Experimental offered up an album that NME was inspired to colorfully describe as “Roni Size getting spiked with GHB and fed through a woodchipper.” Truly, where does one go from there? Well, with five years time to ruminate on how to fittingly flesh out their oeuvre, tētēma are set to drop Necroscape on Friday, April 3rd, 2020, via Ipecac Recordings.

It goes without saying that Australian Composer, Pianist, and Electro-Acoustic artist Pateras, much like his compadre Patton, knows a little something about avant-garde musicianship. An acoustic, as well as a digital artist, he has parlayed his love of classical ensembles into an innovative and contemporary style all his own. Then there is Patton who you know from such diverse outfits as Faith No More, Fantômas, Mr. Bungle, and Tomahawk, to name but a few. Prolific and proudly eclectic in his career catalogue, Patton most recently delivered the album Corpse Flower, a collaboration with Jean-Claude Vannier that arrived in September 2019.

It’s past due for the pair to once again combine their imaginative forces. Thus, Pateras (handling synths and electronics) and Patton (on vocals), along with the talents of Percussionist Will Guthrie (The Ames Room, Elwood & Guthrie) and Violinist Erkki Veltheim (Australian Art Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra) present tētēma’s latest, Nescroscape. The 13-song collection further explores the quartet’s Electro-Acoustic Rock foundation, taking technicolor twirls and hallucinatory rolls that are as deliberately dramatic as they are ludicrously eccentric.

Necroscape opens to its titular offering, a languid undulation of an instrumental Aurora Borealis that caresses the senses both ominously and lovingly. Relying almost entirely on its musical backbone to spin its tale, “Necroscape” does not flow into the second track, “Cutlass Eye,” which sits nearly on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from its predecessor. A cacophonous clash, synths pulsate as Patton skulks about like a cat with its rodent prey hanging from its teeth before, ultimately, he simply explodes.

Initially the sensual sway of tall grasses in a warm, island breeze, “Wait Till Mornin’” pounces from the underbrush to provide a ceremonial enticement before disappearing back into the jungle. Meanwhile, there’s something almost Punk Rock about the spirit of “Haunted On the Uptake,” a lush seizure of (mostly) harmonious sonics that allows Patton to unleash his best vocal assault of the record, thus far. (Don’t worry, there’s more!)

Eerily cinematic at times, “All Signs Uncensored” harkens back to the percussive tones of “Wait Till Mornin’” and places Guthrie’s stellar musicianship at its forefront. While the vocals do receive their due, that, like everything on Necroscape, skips expediently into the next quirky mashing of instrumentation. That would be “Milked Out Millions,” a tornado of tumult that alternates with twinkling chimes, creating a clanger that takes a moment to allow Veltheim’s beautiful violin work to sparkle before returning to its bizarre bangarang of sound.

For “Soliloquy,” racing, bubbling and boiling synth-demonium carves out a microtonal valley that caresses raspy howls and gleeful growls amidst hyperactive drumming. Ears piqued, we next view “Flatliner’s Owl,” where atmospheric notes from Patton flow over a landscape of thick rhythms that end abruptly. There is no recovery period as little cat feet prance into “Dead Still,” a hodge-podge of instrumentation that explodes like a noise bomb, before shifting on its head as a marimba is introduced into the mix. Unlike its predecessor, just when you think it’s over, it’s not.

“Invertebrate” chimes ominously down the spineless black spiral of madness, taking a cinematic trip into the rabbithole of outer space. Next, hips are apt to shake as Moog synths begin to race into “We’ll Talk Inside A Dream,” a trip through a nighttime emission of percussive clatter and an electro-hullabaloo. The end result is a track that has dramatic hills and valleys, moments that flirt with an overdose that culminate in seconds of laser-sharp, delicate harmoniousness; a swan dive into a canyon before soaring towards the heavens.

Thick, mechanical textures weigh heavily, creating an overwhelming pull into the void on “Sun Undone,” a hope-filled eclipse of the everyday. Ultimately, however, they conclude by dipping into a sultry Italian scene with the most cohesive track of the collection, “Funerale Di Un Contadino.” Witnessing a chaotic unfolding of Patton’s vocals and Veltheim’s violin, tētēma close out their sophomore disc with a curiously catchy experience that in no way represents everything that has come before.

One might refer to Necroscape as an experiment with tonal textures and audio oddities, one that paints a gallery full of intentionally obliterating and confuzzling experiences. Short bursts of a melange of instruments, melodies and, more often, dissonance, compromise this collection that is self-aware enough to know that it was always going to be a polarizing work of art. For some, its avant-garde approach to music-making will be off-putting, something that cannot be acquiesced to with time.

Yet, tētēma have crafted an album that will never be relegated to bland background noise or, worse yet, elevator music. Commanding your attention like a snot-covered toddler throwing a tantrum beside your desk, Pateras, Patton, and co. offer an experience that is unparalleled, even if, albeit, not for everyone. In short, Necroscape defies categorization or simple explanation, and if that fact alone appeals to you, then you could be the next fan of tētēma. A bizarre bangarang, an electro-hullabaloo, Cryptic Rock gives Necroscape 4 of 5 stars.

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