The Wonderful Weird of Mike Patton

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There are two kinds of music fans out there: those who worship music, and those who worship personalities. Maybe this is a hasty generalization, but personality is the only way I’m able to account for the level of devotion some musicians seem to inspire in their fans. It’s almost a truism that many musical personalities simply aren’t worth all the fuss from a purely musical standpoint. I’m very pointedly not naming names to keep from derailing my focus, here, so let’s just go ahead and leave comparisons behind and move on to one particular musician worthy of such fuss.

Mike Patton is the fucking bomb. I’m not generally going to feature full posts on a single musician or band here, but when I do, they must satisfy three categories: sufficient uniqueness, talent, and diversity. Patton breezes through each of these qualifications without breaking a sweat.

Most fans know him as the charismatic frontman of Faith No More. While Faith No More is undoubtedly Patton’s claim to fame, that’s not the reason I’m writing about him. I have a confession to make, while we’re here: I don’t even like Faith No More. I know, blasphemous. I’ve tried, again and again, to make it through each album (because, of course, it’s fucking Patton), and the only one I’ve halfway gotten into is The Real Thing, and even then only because, I suspect, “Epic” was all the rage in junior high. The nostalgia element should never be underestimated when discussing music.

What the Faith No More crowd might not know is that FNM barely scratches the surface of Patton’s capabilities. More relevant to the bizarro fans and lovers of weird this blog is intended to entertain is Patton’s highschool band (I know, right? Whoudda thunk?), Mr. Bungle.

I discovered Mr. Bungle pretty soon after first hearing Tom Waits. I was just beginning to learn that a whole dimension of strange and otherworldly music existed out there besides Primus. Bungle fans will assume here the obligatory statement about how “Bungle changed my life,” and they are justified in doing so. Bungle’s breed of hellishly brutal genre-hopping remains largely unmatched to this day, even though the band is now long defunct. Bizarro fans mostly already know about Bungle. If there are any who don’t, you have no idea what you’ve been missing.

And here’s the catch, Faith No More fans: this still doesn’t scratch the surface of Patton. I could go on and on. Patton has worked with Bjork, in metal, alongside John Zorn, in hip hop, punk, as a composer, has manifested in pure noise, in movie voice parts (I Am Legend… yep, seriously. He’s the vampire things), in soundtracks, in italian, as the founder of the record label that The Queens of the Stone Age work under… I could go on, but that’s Wikipedia’s job. Today, I’m more interested in sharing my five favorite Patton albums. Let’s get right to it.

Quite possibly my favorite moment in all of music is when Patton joins The Dillinger Escape Plan for 2002’s Irony is a Dead Scene. This is, bar none, my favorite EP of all time. This very well could’ve been a suicide move for DEP, if they hadn’t discovered a worthy successor in Greg Puciato and hit hard with Miss Machine following Patton’s departure (something tells me, though, that nothing really could’ve stopped the Machine). Nevertheless, Irony is a Dead Scene perfectly brings Patton to the fore of his chaotic side, making for a diverse and disturbing disembowling that this Patton fan cherishes every second of.

Disco Volante is widely Bungle’s least praised album. This is a shame, since it’s the best one. Following on Bungle’s self-titled debut, the carnival vibe has been toned down for a more diverse and challenging palette of electronic experimentation and sprawling song structures. This is Patton at his most diverse (well… outside of his work with Fantomas). It’s one of those albums I can listen to a million times and still find something new. I mean that literally. I really do still find stuff in the mix I hadn’t noticed before, and I’ve been listening to this album consistently for fifteen years.

It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite Fantomas album, so I’ll go with Delerium Cordia, since it doesn’t get the hype it deserves. This album features a single track over 74 minutes wrong (I meant to type “long” but I’m leaving “wrong,” since that’s as accurate as a Freudian slip could possibly get). It’s supposed to be a soundtrack to a surgery gone south, but I find it best to immerse yourself in this one without preconceived notions as to what you are supposed to get out of it. This is a very rewarding listening experience and I encourage you to attempt it. Force yourself to be patient with this one. Open yourself to the nightmare. As a side note, this is great writing music as well.

This is the strongest specimen of Patton’s extensive work on the hip-hop side of things. In 2004, Patton teams up with New York DJ trio, The X-Ecutioners, for this wild and tasteful dive into intricate sampling and vocal experimentation. This is one noisy album, but certainly to be appreciated by fans of the likes of DJ Shadow, particularly his work on the magnificent Endtroducing. Patton proves that he is capable of adapting to any musical environment on General Patton, and he doesn’t simply “survive” this atmospheric change. He makes a damn brilliant album out of it.

And who can leave out Patton’s sophisticated solo project? The food-themed Pranzo Oltranzista features a cello, guitar, percussion, and alto sax (wielded by than Zorn himself) while Patton experiments with non-lyrical vocal effects. This probably ties with Delerium Cordia as the most atmospherically disturbing album on this list. It’s what I loosely call “chamber” music (meaning, in my inaccurate terms, a small, somewhat traditional ensemble performing relatively formal arrangements), but it is by no means “boring.” There are many sick and twisted “chamber” recordings out there by traditional composers, and Patton’s, despite being a “rock star,” is among some of the best. This is an amazing feat, if you think about it. How many rock vocalists can go from metal to hip-hop to formal composition? There aren’t many.

This doesn’t even remotely touch on all the facets of Patton’s brilliant career. In a future second part of this blog, we’ll dive a little deeper. Comment your favorite Patton album!

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