Since the last time the music world heard a proper studio album from Floridian sludge pop metal act Torche, a lot has happened. A band member was replaced (guitarist Juan Montoya), a split 10″ vinyl with Boris (titled Chapter Ahead Being Fake was released, followed by another split—of Guided By Voices covers—with London’s Part Chimp, and a buzzworthy EP was issued (last year’s Songs for Singles).
Harmonicraft, out today, April 24 (via Volcom) is the band’s third record and the proper full-length follow-up to their second one, Meanderthal, its critically praised breakout album that came out four (seemingly long) years ago. At just under 39 minutes, this new batch of 13 tracks—which average three minutes each for all you math majors out there—are largely in keeping with the group’s well established approach of creating (mostly) short but super heavy and hook-driven jams. They just don’t fuck around or waste a single note.
The first track released from the record, “Kicking” (track two), is an aggressive, yet upbeat hard rock piece with phaser-aided guitars that wash over the sound barrier during the choruses. It’s typical Torche and a good early album highlight, as is the next track, “Walk It Off.” That tune’s fast tempo and meaty guitars will instantly remind stoner rock fans of Queens of the Stone Age, particularly “Go With The Flow.” but in its 1:26 in length, it still has room for a couple of sudden twists in the form of some brief, chugging heavy chords and bass lines.
Singer/guitarist Steve Brooks sounds more than a bit like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on this LP and especially on “Reverse Inverted,” which tucks in some bluesy guitar stylings into its heavy brand of rock ‘n’ roll. “Kiss Me Dudely” just plain fuckin’ rocks, especially towards the end, and is therefore another standout.
At first, “Snakes Are Charmed” was a mixed bag for this reviewer, but has gotten better with each listen. It starts out promising, via its opening twin guitar lines (which are likely played by one guitarist with a harmonizer). Then the tune slows up with mind-tricky time-signature changes that just didn’t resonate to these ears at first.
A couple of track though, either don’t quite fit the flow of the album or are a bit dull, such as “Solitary Traveler” and album closer “Looking On.” The chillout tune of the album, “Solitary Traveler,” changes the sonic scenery up with its dreamy vocals, sludge rock guitars and overall shoegazer/drone-like melodic bliss, but slows the pace of the album up a bit too much. Still, it’s a pretty good tune—it just feels somewhat out of place on this album. On the other hand, “Looking On” is the only real bore on this release, as its slowly building guitar lines don’t really go anywhere for much of its nearly six minutes in length.
If you like your hard rock and metal super heavy but catchy—like a heavy metal Guided By Voices or like “Stacked Actors” by Foo Fighters but even better—and sometimes a bit adventurous and proggy, this band and album will definitely appeal to you. And if you were ever a fan of Torche before, there’s no reason to abandon this one-of-a-kind band now.
Harmonicraft doesn’t break the ground that Meanderthal did, nor does it have to. It’s just a strong track or two away from matching that record’s five-star ferocity. In sum, it is a terrific follow-up, and as great a songwriter as Brooks is, the presence of a fresh face like (Montoya’s replacement) Andrew Eistner on guitar and back-up harmony vocals no doubt had a profound influence on how consistently good it turned out to be. Clearly, this quartet, three full albums into its career, has been reinvigorated and proven it can make another army of tracks well worth digging.
Stream all of Harmonicraft now (with track-by-track commentary by bassist Jonathan Nunez) at Spin.com.