Mike Patton’s a bit of a film buff so when he makes an album like Bacteria Cult the question isn’t so much what kind of music he’ll be making as what soundtracks he’ll be referencing. Will it be the Italian pomp of Rota and Morricone, as on Mondo Cane? Horror soundtracks, as on The Director’s Cut? Bacteria Cult is Patton’s second joint with John Erik Kaada, a composer mostly known for scoring obscure Norwegian indies, and it’s mostly the kind of music that plays in haunted-house movies while our heroes explore the hallways and we’re still waiting for our first scare.

Menace is the main emotion here, conveyed through minor key and languid pacing. There are no moments that make the listener jump, though there are a few lighter tunes where the listener can relax, namely the soaring “Black Albino”—the most Italian-sounding thing here—and the surprisingly catchy “Papillion.” In fact, very little happens on this album. Patton generally attacks his music with great gusto, which is what makes his work with Mr. Bungle and Fantômas so compelling. Here, he just makes vocal noises that follow Kaada’s melodies. Though it’s unmistakably Patton’s voice, many listeners might not even notice it.

Bacteria Cult is nice background music for when you want to make your environs a bit more foreboding, and it’s great as accompaniment to a late-night walk or synced to a creepy video in a stoner den. I’d like to see this music set to a movie. But as an album, it just kind of hangs there, not doing much. It would have been nice to see Kaada and Patton explore more moods and styles with their admittedly formidable arsenal of instruments; they’ve got no shortage of access to horns, strings, percussion and keyboards. Instead, they’re hung up on vague menace for a 30 minutes runtime that makes the album listenable but also reinforces its slightness.

It’s not that evocative either, meaning it doesn’t particularly work as ambient music. Most of the instruments here are acoustic, and they’re played more or less the way one would expect them to be played—the exception being a wonderful duet on “A Burnt Out Case” between Patton’s cooing and a muted trumpet that wouldn’t be out of place on a “Looney Tunes” soundtrack. Furthermore, seeing as this is a pastiche of film score music, these tracks mostly just evoke other soundtracks. Those unfamiliar with film might be enthralled by Bacteria Cult, while those more so might find themselves just playing spot-the-reference.

Still, this is the superior of the two Kaada and Patton albums. Romances from 2004 was overwrought and blustery, the exact opposite of Bacteria Cult, and featured a few songs of Mike Patton singing in the bratty-opera nu-metal voice he helped invent with Faith No More. Subtlety seems to be the way to go for this collaboration. But there’s also a thin line between subtlety and insubstantiality, and Bacteria Cult toes it dangerously.

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