tētēma – ‘Necroscape’

By Fiachra Johnston

Mike Patton doesn’t seem to know what a day off is. Between a Mr. Bungle revival, his work with three separate supergroups, his own solo work and more, the Faith No More vocalist seems to be running out of fingers to stick in pies. Patton still isn’t quite satisfied, however, and this new release sees him team with Australian composer and producer Anthony Pateras to return to tētēma, perhaps one of the more unorthodox projects in his repertoire. Self-described as modernist electro-acoustic rock, the pair made their existence known with the 2014 debut ‘Genocidal’. Now joined by violinist Erkki Veltheim and drummer Will Guthrie, the quartet have produced their follow up in ‘Necroscape’, one of the most beguiling sonic experiments in the last year.

There’s an underlying primalness to much of this new record; ‘Wait Til Mornin’ and its humid jungle-bass, the tribal chants of ‘All Signs Uncensored’, shifting into the more low and threatening ’Milked Out Million’. There’s a more electronica focused sound here, but thanks to the rather impressive background throat singing, this primal nature continues – perhaps at odds with the primary theme of ‘Necroscape’ that is isolation in the surveillance age, or perhaps, obtusely, contributing to it. Anthony Pateras feels like the keystone of this record, his fingerprints all over it as retro-futuristic electronica mixes with the shrill violins and thunderous drum lines of his bandmates. The modernist angle to it all is easily noticeable as machine mixes with man, and Pateras’ use of odd-time signatures and microtonality – mixed with odd but well used instrumentation – creates a soundtrack to the age of surveillance beautifully. 

While the album sees a focus on these hills and valleys of electronics mixed with acoustic, Patton’s vocal talents aren’t lost on this record. ‘Cutlass Eye’ rolls between intense whispering and wailing backing vocals, and while ‘Dead Still’ starts off in rather quirky fashion, it quickly devolves into more devious undertones: “Worst is when the silence comes, silence holds its breath”. A ripping bassline, which rears its head multiple times in the album, contributes wonderfully, and indeed, this second half of the album delivers some of the most unique and engaging sound profiles Patton has ever worked on, each instrument contributing so much in a short space of time. ‘We’ll Talk Inside A Dream’, perhaps the most chaotic track of the record, barrels between synth and string with a whiplash-like intent. The ambient ‘Sun Undone’ immediately follows, an anxious reprieve of a track that leads into ‘Funerale Di Un Contadino’, a Western infused-vocal driven ballad that closes out the album in suitably strange fashion and solidifies ‘Necroscape’ as this strange but effective mix of sounds and styles. It’s a Picasso painting of a record, each inch of it chaotic and senseless at first glance, but with razor focused intent and thought put into each note. 

‘Necroscape’ is less of an album and more of an interpretive experience, and pretentious as it comes across, it defies classification of any kind. Serving as a sonic playground that will delight those interested in psychoacoustics and the more technical side of music, as well as providing a macabre tale of isolation, Patton and Pateras’ fascination for the obtuse technicalities of sound and music has solidified tētēma as a modernist force of nature.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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