From Eh to Epic, Here’s a Handy Mike Patton Cheat Sheet
Few musicians live in the rarified air that Mike Patton inhabits. Once considered an Anthony Kiedis rip-off (by people like Anthony Kiedis), and remembered by others as that guy who flopped like a fish on the MTV Video Music Awards, Patton's stature has grown to the point where he is now considered one of the most innovative, adventurous and accomplished artists of his generation. And one reason is because he releases an ungodly amount of music.
In a career that spans almost 40 years, Patton has had his hands in dozens and dozens of projects, from bands to soundtracks to guest spots when he just happens to have a free moment. And sifting through it all is no easy lift. So, here's a cheat sheet.
As to be expected, a few of Patton's ventures slipped through the cracks (I'd love a copy of the Hemophiliac album if anyone wants to send it my way), but here are 22 of his projects, ordered from mediocre to mandatory.
Weird Little Boy, Weird Little Boy (1998)
Hated even by the people involved — including Patton, John Zorn and Mr. Bungle’s Trey Spruance — there isn’t much going on here that meets the standards of noise or improv or metal or ... really anything. Both poorly conducted and recorded, Patton playing drums is one clue that this is a night of friends fucking around that accidentally wound up an album.
Peeping Tom, Peeping Tom (2006)
Peeping Tom was, according to Patton, his own take on what radio-friendly music should sound like. That both feels like an appropriate description of what this is, as well as an excuse for why it’s so lightweight. Featuring numerous high-profile (mostly hip-hop) guest appearances, the possibility for a wide-ranging mind-meld of influences ends up as a collection of bright ideas outshined by a need to Pattonize everything, throwing out quirky hooks and his own rapid-fire faux-rap flow. When Kool Keith winds up as an understated second fiddle, something has gone wrong. Patton’s consistent creative output means some projects are never revisited, but this one in particular should remain forgotten.
Maldoror, She (1999)
One of the few musicians to make Mike Patton look lazy is Masami Akita, aka Merzbow, who remains a tireless and top-tier noise musician. And while Patton and Akita working together is something many would clamor for, this is a half-baked affair that feels like it stemmed from an afternoon of improv that was quickly packaged and sent off without a second thought. It’s the kind of record someone would buy on vinyl without any plans of actually putting it on.
Nevermen, Nevermen (2016)
The combination of Patton with TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe makes sense, as both are skilled at flowing over rock music and delivering impactful, sonorous choruses. Bringing in Doseone promised something akin to 13 & God, that alt-rapper’s fruitful collaboration with the Notwist. But this sounds like quarter loaves from everyone. Ideas that may have flourished if put solely in the hands of a single member are stretched and suffocated by contributions from the others to the point where it feels like songs are trying to go two different directions at the same time. In the press material, the members call the band leaderless, which is meant to seem more equitable, but instead serves as a warning.
Crank: High Voltage soundtrack (2009)
The poster for the Crank sequel is a blurry photo of Jason Statham tearing open his shirt and sticking an auto battery clamp on his tongue. And here’s a snippet of the plot: “... he must get injected with electric shocks in order to stay alive and kill those who did it to him.” These 32 tracks are far more interesting than a movie like this needs, and without seeing the film, this was likely one of the high points. As a standalone album, though, this batch of spazzy electronica, Mountain Dew metal and modern noir doesn’t have much of a shelf life.
Mike Patton, Adult Themes for Voice (1996)
Patton’s solo debut, also known as “crazy noises Mike Patton made without instruments in hotel rooms.” Its content and length are not unlike if someone made a video that features all 38,387 points scored by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The accomplishment is impressive, and no one can deny the skill and dedication, but it’s more rewarding simply to know it’s been done than to subject yourself to the entire experience.
The Place Beyond the Pines score (2012)
Taking inspiration from David Lynch’s longtime composer Angelo Badalamenti, this is eerie and sparse atmosphere, mostly with keys, strings and choral arrangements that are hard to separate from their function as a supplement to a film and enjoy on their own as standalone music. Nevertheless, it is enjoyable background music, morose and understated (despite a track called “Bromance”).
Mike Patton, Pranzo Oltranzista (1997)
Possibly in response to Adult Themes, his solo follow-up contains few fingerprints that would connect him to the work. A noise-jazz journey, the album is mostly field recordings and instruments that meander along without structure or much purpose. While not a soundtrack, it could work as some sort of neo-kabuki horror backdrop; but that second element is necessary to hold anyone’s attention through the entire album.
General Patton vs. the X-Ecutioners (2005)
Mike Patton and three turntablists could mean any number of things, but it’s a more predictable affair when it’s closer to three turntablists and Mike Patton. Consisting of multiple movie and record samples, this relies on the abilities of the three master DJs to put together dense compositions for Patton to sift through, deciding what to place on top. That leaves these 23 tracks as mostly a collection of interesting sound collages, with Patton adding extraneous noise and stopping by as an occasional guest vocalist for less than a third of the record. Patton acolytes might miss him too much, but there’s plenty of artistry here for X-Ecutioners fans.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers soundtrack (2011)
There isn’t a lot of stylistic room between this and the score for The Place Beyond the Pines, and should only be given a slight edge because it was the first time Patton tried this; that said, there are more brooding noise elements in here that, if taken alone, make for a more compelling listen.
Lovage, Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (2001)
Dan the Automator’s character Nathaniel Merriweather was behind this project, a laid-back, scratch-inflected batch of jams with Kid Koala that features duets between Patton and singer Jennifer Charles. The title of the record is not completely off, as it pairs nicely with champagne and a bearskin rug, but its ability to play as background music means that, for the most part, this is background music: smooth and pleasant and undemanding.
Mike Patton / Ictus Ensemble, Laborintus II (2012)
This is Patton at his most highbrow and challenging: a live collaboration with an orchestra that recreates a 1965 contemporary classical piece that is near indigestible for its half-hour runtime. Since Patton himself is a mere cog, mostly just speaking and yelling in Italian, this is one of the least essential Patton projects; but as a classical piece of music, it is sometimes compelling and often disturbing enough for the curious.
A Perfect Place soundtrack (2008)
This jazzy, smoky, 35-minute soundtrack for a 25-minute film almost works as a Patton solo album, featuring flirtations with calypso and other anachronistic styles. It may not fully add up to a satisfactory album, but there is enough heft that fans of his eclectic trial balloons will want to savor a few of the showpieces.
A Helmet / Jesus Lizard / Melvins / Patton project could have never lived up to that kind of billing, but when John Stanier, Duane Denison and Kevin Rutmanis joined the vocalist, it was hard to not expect pure magic. And there have been flashes of that, even when Rutmanis left before the third album was finished (replaced by Trevor Dunn). At their best, Tomahawk have been an AmRep supergroup bolstered by a vocal Svengali: steamroller songs with Patton steering and twisting effects knobs. They’re not always at their best, of course, sometimes wandering into genres better suited for just Patton instead of airtight musicians playing noise-rock. But even then, it sometimes works, and when it works with musicians like these, it’s damn near perfect.
Tētēma, Geocidal (2014)
This project, with composer Anthony Pateras, sounds like a project that many people think all Mike Patton side projects sound like: unmoored experimental noise interlaced with his verbal convulsions. But despite the likelihood of a predictable one-off, this succeeds as an off-kilter collection of hypnotic beats, skittering electronics, exotic melodies and a Patton who never overtakes the songs, but just gives them that extra unnerving push.
Mike Patton, Mondo Cane (2010)
Mike Patton taking on '50s and '60s Italian music could have been one of his flimsier concepts, and yet Mondo Cane is able to deliver a faithful tribute, thanks in part to a 40-piece orchestra and backing band 15 members deep. These professional reinforcements help Patton spin the songs his own way without ever losing the melodies and overall spirit. The only issue for a Patton fan is that, while the covers are good, if you like them, you’ll probably love the originals.
The Dillinger Escape Plan, Irony Is a Dead Scene (2002)
After the departure of Dimitri Minakakis, Mike Patton seemed like the perfect frontman to help shove the Dillinger Escape Plan past the shredding mathcore ceiling of Calculating Infinity. All four tracks are worth revisiting (including their Aphex Twin cover), but the only true gem here is the six-minute “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things,” where Dillinger’s vicious calculus is given a completely different dimension thanks to Patton unleashing his full gifts of derangement. Depending on how you gauge TDEP after this, the song is either the first real step in their evolution or the final remnant of what could have been.
John Zorn and the Moonchild Trio (2005-2014)
The Moonchild Trio is Patton, drummer John Baron and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, who, along with Zorn, released seven albums that both play to the indulgences of the quartet and also somehow convince you they need all this space to execute the free-form noise-rock jazz that blows your head back. Patton himself runs the entire spectrum of his whispers, screeches, croons and possessed babbles, turning what would be extended jams into something much more compelling. And considering the collected mass of these albums, it’s surprising they haven't received more attention.
Kaada / Patton (2004-2016)
Two studio albums have been released by the duo of Patton and Norwegian composer Kaada, 12 years apart. The first, Romances, is mostly slow balladry, Patton sounding like he’s fronting the house band at a haunted wedding reception. For the second, Bacteria Cult, Patton skips lyrics, helping to amplify melodies with his voice and turning the album into one of the most effortlessly enjoyable and accessible of his career.
Mr. Bungle (1991-1999)
The musical schizophrenia of Mr. Bungle is not nearly as impenetrable as it was 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean what the band did is any less awe-inspiring. Over the course of three albums, the band was able to baffle, piss off and completely seduce scores of people who happened to get caught in their gravity. While Patton has released far more difficult music, his work with Mr. Bungle as a whole remains one of the most batshit musical outfits to ever get the backing of a major label. And the band successfully crafting a few radio-friendly hits at the end may have been the greatest prank of their career.
Faith No More (1989-2015)
There could be (and likely are) multiple lists looking at the five albums where Patton fronted Faith No More, a band with such influence and gravity that it’s still managed to demote everything else from him to a side project. Starting with The Real Thing, the anthemic “Epic” was a gateway song into the band’s skewed take on rock: a fearless hybrid of disparate influences that kept growing more detached from mainstream expectations. The band is the drunken stepfather of nü-metal, but their distaste at the connection is understandable considering how varied and thoughtful they were with their music. Sometimes there were rap verses over metal riffs, but there were also layers of oddity, massive choruses, virtuoso execution, and a rare mix of cynicism and beauty. Whether 2015’s long-anticipated comeback Sol Invictus was a return to glory or a faded reproduction is largely irrelevant — throw those songs in with the rest, mix them up and experience a fascinating body of work.
Patton once said that plenty of labels were interested in Fantômas, his supergroup with Buzz Osborne, Dave Lombardo and Dunn, until they actually heard it. And while, yes, the band is rarely an easy listen, it's safe to say this was probably the most successful explication of Patton’s turbulent id. Meditative, bewildering and charmingly outlandish, few bands have had enough capital to release both a 74-minute song and a metal cover of The Godfather theme. And everything is so confidently composed and packaged that there remains a need to get through it all, even if it takes multiple attempts. Does that mean that this is definitively Patton’s highest-quality project of his long and varied career? Not really. But for a musician who’s discussed with such reverence and held up like some sort of euphonic alien or liberal arts lab experiment gone awry, these four records feel like Patton at his most … Patton. They feel the closest to what you'd get if you cracked open his skull and poured the contents onto an LP. They feel like what the man himself probably thinks is the best stuff he’s ever done.