Fantômas are comprised of four rock musicians making distinctly un-rock music. Vocalist Mike Patton is currently the singer in Tomahawk and Peeping Tom. His famous larynx formerly supplied Faith No More and Mr Bungle with their operatic vocal dynamics. He is also the owner of Ipecac Recordings, who have released all four of the Fantomas records. Guitarist Buzz Osborne (aka King Buzzo) is in the Melvins - the Aberdeen, Washington trio who invented most types of rock music. Trevor Dunn plays bass, his former assignments include Mr Bungle and collaborations with legendary saxophonist John Zorn. Percussion is provided by Dave Lombardo, who recently returned to Slayer after having played on their classic albums South of Heaven and Reign in Blood.
The band are named after the hero of a French cop film.
Responsible for one of the most eclectic catalogs of recent memory, Fantomas return with Suspended Animation, a thirty-track set that both celebrates the art of cartoon composition and the many reasons to behold the fourth month of our calendar, April (with one piece for each day of the month). Who knew that April is subtitled 'national humour and anxiety month'? Who knew that the dreaded April 15 was actually titled That Sucks Day' or that April 24 marks the beginning of 'National Karaoke Week'? Leave it to the creative minds
behind Fantômas to enlighten us to the many forgotten holidays throughout April.
Fantômas' three previous releases have regaled listeners with a sci-fi homage (Fantômas ,1999), a celebration of the best in film composition (Director's Cut, 2001) and a one song album (Delirium Cordia, 2004). As Rolling Stone said in their review of Delirium
Çordia. "One epic seventy-four minute noise-rock song. What's not to like?" Now with Suspended Animation, the quartet delves headlong into a new and recently unexplored genre... cartoon music. Recorded in the Spring of 2003, during the same sessions as surgically precise Delirium Cordia, Suspended Animation is the yang to Delirium Cordia's ying. Bright and loose, Patton describes the new album as "nursery rhymes, cartoon sound effects and choppy arrangements".
As with all Ipecac releases, the artwork and packaging are just as integral to unfolding the full story as the piece of music. Suspended Animation is no different. Perhaps the most intricate packaging to date, the thirty page booklet/calendar is illustrated by Asian pop cartoonist Yoshimoto Nara. In a recent San Francisco Bay Guardian feature, Nara's influential style was described as "cartoon like images and sculptures of kids and puppies sporting world-weary adult expressions, major attitude and salty vocabularies." The paper went on to say that Nara's pieces are among the most cutting edge of Japanese exports in the contemporary artworld.
Sputnik | 2005 | 4.5
Fantomas have gathered quite a following through out alternative culture. They released a self titled album in 1999, which was made to be a soundtrack to a French pre-WW2 graphic novel. It featured 30 songs, one for each page of the book, and through the whole album Patton doesn't speak a word, choosing instead to say seemingly random syllables.
In (I think) 2001 they released a covers album of 70's film theme songs, called The Director's Cut. Slightly more normal, but then again, have Fantomas ever been normal?
In 2004 they released the haunting epic Delirium Cordia, one 74 minute song of noise, ambiance and sheer horror.
All albums of the Fantomas are based on one thing: Unpredictability. You can never tell what the next song, page, moment or day is going to be like, especially with their vast repertoire of samples, and Mike Patton's extremely versatile voice.
On April 5th 2005, they released Suspended Animation, a tribute to children's music and the month of April. There are thirty songs, each representing a day of April. First thing you must know about this album is the packaging. This is worth the price of admission alone. It is a thirty day calendar for April, with glossed paper and it's also ring binded. Each day has 3 things; an illustration by Japanese pop artist Yo***omo Nara, which are sometimes cute, sometimes scary, thought provoking, or just funny. It also lists different national holidays held in different countries (though it's mostly USA), and has a little awesome cartoon of a baby which is dressed up differently each day (goth, afro hippie, ninja, geek, you get the idea), which are extremely cute.
The whole packaging is made to look like a Japanese calendar (it has Japanese writing in some places), and it does it perfectly, it even has little holes for you to pin it up (but you wouldn't) and a space to put your name. Gorgeous. But it's innocence deceives you, of course.
Doing a day-by-day review of this album would take hours of listening, even weeks, because there is so much unpredictability and variety that it's impossible to keep up with it all. A riff will be played twice, and the song will change completely.
I'm not sure whether Patton is saying anything on this, but I'm pretty sure he's not. Buzz does a bit of singing on the 10th day, and does very well, I'm pretty sure he's saying something.
The whole album is abundant with funny samples from cartoons or effects the band have made themselves. Sometimes it's spooky, sometimes it's funny. And I'm sure if someone was brave enough to check they'd find that about 1/5 of this album is samples.
The vocals go from 50's Jazz crooning, to operatic howling, to weird sounds, to harsh, freaky (one part, there's all of these samples goin' on and Patton says in this downright scary voice "QUIET!!!"), and just about every style you can think of. Patton is a genius, the best vocalist ever.
The drumming has a very rich sound, very soft and thudding, it suits the metallic music well. Dave doesn't get to show off like other albums, though, except for when he follows the vocals with excellent cymbal tapping.
I can't hear bass, so I honestly can't comment on Trevor's playing.
Buzz gets a wicked distorted, loud noise out of his guitar that you have to hear to believe. The 6th day has the best sounding riff ever, it's kind of loud and echoey and comes out of nowhere, it kicks. Oh, and unlike Melvins, don't expect any solos, this is a solo-free zone.
The riffing goes from fast, almost punkish, to sludgey and thudding (Buzz shines here), to loud and bombastic.
Basically, the album is very all over the place and loud, and sometimes scary (not to the extent of their other material, it's more "that is weird" then "AAAGH!!!"). Don't purchase this wanting beautiful melodies, straight out metal and awesome lyrics. Instead, prepare to be challenged, creeped out and most of all, surprised.
An excellent album, well worth the purchase for the packaging, but the album is near-perfection too.