In an October 2008 interview with The A.V. Club, TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe briefly discussed his forthcoming collaboration with experimental rapper Adam Drucker, aka Doseone, and alt rock king Mike Patton. Adebimpe described the project as a vocal experiment and said it would “congeal toward the end of the year.” Turns out the collaboration needed more time to settle, and more occasions for its creators to get in the same room.
After that interview, TV on the Radio went on to release two more albums. Adebimpe also kept busy with a side project called Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band and flexed his acting muscles in a couple of 2015 indie flicks, Nasty Baby and 7 Chinese Brothers. Drucker rebounded from the break-up of his hip-hop group Subtle by working on a couple full-lengths with producer Jel under the name Themselves, who also convened with German indie outfit The Notwist to record a collaborative album under the name 13 & God. Drucker also focused on his solo work and budding career making video game soundtracks. Meanwhile, Patton continued a creative streak that appears to hold little time for sleep: Among his growing arsenal of accomplishments are Faith No More’s 2015 reunion album, Sol Invictus, and daring, affecting scores for The Place Beyond the Pines and Crank: High Voltage.
Considering the circumstances, it’s a wonder that Adebimpe, Drucker, and Patton were able to put anything out at all. The fact that their self-titled debut as Nevermen is palatable to anyone but those involved is just a bonus. Nevermen is a group without a definitive leader, and their album started with a week of jamming in a Williamsburg warehouse. The idea of spending an evening in a room with these distinct musicians as they feed off each others’ energy and wail on instruments is enticing in the very way that watching a drum circle isn’t. But both require the un-replicable experience of participation — the frenzied blur of sound, the fragrances swirling in the air, and the delirium of smacking an object for hours at a time — that a recording doesn’t quite contain.
Fortunately, Patton shaped these sessions, granting Nevermen a coherence and structure. It’s never as powerful an album as the members of Nevermen have proven capable of creating separate from this band, and at times their voices clash at incongruous angles — but, those moments of frisson make the experiment worthwhile. When all three voices join together with the precision of a diamond laser-cutter, they’re an unparalleled force. On “Hate On”, Drucker’s froggy croon, Adebimpe’s warm warble, and Patton’s refined incantation gloriously meld together and rain down from the heavens like a blinding, divine light. Nevermen lock in on “Mr. Mistake”, their voices filling in the little gaps between the animated, bubbling instrumentals. The more the whimsical track chugs along, the more it resembles a fantastically multicolored piece of machinery devised by Dr. Seuss.
Much of the rest of the album doesn’t quite meet those lofty heights, though it comes close in fragments — say, the glistening, upward slope of the chorus for “Tough Towns” or the slow, dramatic swell that emerges from the quiet hum of closer “Fame II the Wreckoning”. In large part, the songs on Nevermen come across exactly as that: songs, specifically made in a studio by a group of individually talented musicians. That’s fine, but Nevermen are also able to wrest unearthly and altogether human sounds from their vocal chords and a selection of objects. When they accomplish that feat together, it’s hard to settle for anything else.
Essential Tracks: “Hate On”, “Mr. Mistake”