29th January 2016 – Ipecac Records
01. Dark Ear
02. Treat Em Right
03. Wrong Animal Right Trap
04. Tough Towns
05. Hate On
06. Mr. Mistake
08. At Your Service
09. Non Babylon
10. Fame II the Wreckoning
If there’s one quality that long-standing fans of Mike Patton have been forced to develop, it’s patience. Quite apart from the eighteen year gap between Faith No More albums, his multi-project approach to music has often resulted in some considerably lengthy waiting periods between news of the existence of a fresh and minty collaboration and the actual delivery of the music itself. Nevermen, which sees Patton join forces with rapper Doseone and TV On The Radio‘s Tunde Adebimpe was first mentioned in interviews back in 2009, yet their self-titled debut album is only now reaching our ears.
With a certain degree of happy coincidence, it also took roughly six years for Patton’s hyper-collaborative Peeping Tom project to move from being mentioned in interviews to arriving in peoples’ ears. That coincidence is further compounded by the fact that, of all the many and various pies that Patton has stuck fingers and toes into over the last quarter-century, Peeping Tom is the most directly comparable to Nevermen, with General Patton Vs The X-Ecutioners following closely behind. Another good reference point would be the Handsome Boy Modelling School project, masterminded by Dan The Automator and De La Soul‘s Prince Paul, to which Patton contributed vocals to a couple of tracks amongst a whole armada of guests.
It may be natural for those, like myself, who have followed the ins and outs of Patton’s career with practically obsessive attention to treat Nevermen as ‘yet another crazy Patton project’. However, the band themselves are keen to make clear that they are a leaderless trio, albeit one comprised of three frontmen, with their egos checked and stowed at the door on the way in. What’s more, their word appears to have been replicated in deed, as none of the three voices dominates, the overall sound contains recognisable elements from all of them and they combine in a genuinely unique and interesting manner.
Probably the most appropriate combination of tags we could pull from the big tombola bucket of genres would be something like ‘psychedelic art-hop’. The foundations on which the majority of the tracks on offer here rest are languid, loping hip-hop beats, and the lyrics are often delivered in a manner that sits halfway between singing and rapping, depending on who happens to be holding the mic at any one moment. The remainder of the instrumentation is a mostly sunny and dreamy layered patchwork of samples and sounds, building grooves from a multitude of smaller components rather than an overt bassline or keyboard riff. With barely a discordant note to be heard, Nevermen is largely a relaxed, straightforward listening experience that they have clearly invested a considerable amount of time honing into a sleek and rounded whole.
The real action lies in the vocals, though. Rather than dividing duties between the trio by giving each of them a whole verse to play with, they rarely sing more than a rhyming couplet – and sometimes only a word or two – before passing the baton onward. Their parts sometimes combine or spill over each other, but never in a way that causes confusion. Nevertheless, especially given the chameleon-like nature of Patton’s voice in particular, it’s still easy to lose track of precisely who is singing what – not that it really matters.
When everything falls into place, the results are completely sublime. The real stand-out from the ten track collection is “Mr Mistake“. Bouncy, poppy and blissed out, it’s a sure-fire feel good hit of the summer, despite its wintry release date. “Treat Em Right” and “Non Babylon” are also immediately infectious and effortlessly slinky, and “Fame II The Wreckoning” provides a fittingly wistful and memorable coda to the album.
Nevermen is not a completely unqualified success, though. Whilst never becoming unlistenable, a couple of the tracks – “Shellshot” especially – are somewhat forgettable, and likely to be swiftly skipped in preference for the tracks where everything falls more snugly into place. “Tough Towns“, with a curious, off-time chant of “Go Pittsburgh” seems to sit on the boundary between those two broad groups, depending on one’s mood.
Even so, there’s plenty here to engage the listener, Patton fans especially, and with yet another collaboration – a second album working with John Kaada – scheduled for release in April, it is looking increasingly like a return to his hyper-prolific habits after devoting much of his attention to the reactivation of Faith No More. That can only be a positive thing.
At its core, Nevermen takes a great big basket of kooky and quirky ideas and packages them together in an easily digestible form. Whether it’s satisfying a pre-existing desire for the left-field or serving as something of a gateway, especially for a new generation first becoming aware of Patton’s back catalogue following the Faith No More reunion, Nevermen is certainly more delight than disappointment, and definitely worth the wait.