Romances – AVERSION (Review)




Most people already know Mike Patton as the frontman of Faith No More, the seminal, turn-of-the-’90s alt-rock band that cared a lot, but only had a single big time hit (the one with the fish flopping around in the sand at the end of the video). Or maybe they know him from his tenure in Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Tomahawk or any of the other dozen or so bands with whom the insanely prolific Bay Area auteur is probably recording albums at this very second. Lesser known would be the person that he takes second billing to on Romances, the Scandinavian composer John Kaada, who, though little known in the United States, clearly possesses the talent necessary to challenge Patton’s mettle.


Swelling with grandiose bluster one minute and crumbling into fragile, tinkling melodies the next, Kaada’s richly atmospheric soundtrack immediately calls to mind some of Brian Eno’s groundbreaking work with David Bowie on 1997’s masterful Low. This is especially true when Patton’s vocal work eschews lyrics and delves into strictly onomatopoeic, “Warszawa” territory – which, as it turns out, is more often than not – like on the epic-length “Aubade.” The result of multiple Pattons humming and harmonizing over Kaada’s ethereal Plan 9 arrangements is a whimsical, ghostly affair that lavishes aural rewards upon listeners that slip on their headphones and set the Discman on repeat.


Kaada and Patton list classical composers like Brahms and Chopin as inspirations, but Romances sounds far more modern and bizarre, with analog instruments mixed on top of synthesizers and clanking percussion layered alongside piercing bursts of otherworldly theremin. As clichéd as it may sound, the key instrument here is Patton’s voice. He runs the gamut from imitating a singing saw to approximating the operatic, as on the loping “Viens, le Gazons Sont Verts,” but also delivers traditional singing to balance the weirdo vocalizing on songs like “Pitié Pour Mes Larmes” and “Seule.”


Aficionados of Mike Patton’s penchant for experimentation should find plenty of redeeming qualities in Romances, which – fair warning – never remotely approaches rock, and may be destined to be enjoyed even among less shallow members of the Starbucks set. With Kaada’s help, however, Romances pushes conventional boundaries and arrives at something rare and beautiful.


– Casey Lombardo