From the first punch of “Twisted Crystal,” name and album art, I’m brought to a vague, conglomerate memory of all my time spent thumbing through used records. It’s reminiscent of some kind of ’70s utopian something, with textural gyrations of patterns, crammed up against one another. And there’s a little punch of narcissistic ’80s neon. Those illusion-istic designs on bus seats that never quite seem static.
If you’ve been keen on Guerilla Toss for a while, you might notice that their latest album hits with a little less punch than “Smack the Brick” or “367 Equalizer.” Like someone who found a haircut that worked in 1989 and has kept it ever since, I’ve gotten that early GT sound near-irreparably stuck in my craw. I’m not wrong — they are a heavy band. Their heft hasn’t gone anywhere — it’s just re-positioned, coming out in different ways.
I recently saw something strange: a gurgling mud pool, heated deep underground by volcanic energy. The water below was so discontented it boiled against the thick layer of silica, which held it for a moment, resisting, but then gave and spouted up in a sloppy gray bubble. There is certainly raw energy within “Twisted Crystal,” whether surface or underlying.
Kassie Carlson still commands the foreground, the proceedings controlled via her jeering vocal affect.
The instrumentation is still tight, but each element feels more discernible. In early GT, it was easy to accept a quick take of heavy, jamming music with a distinctive and charismatic frontwoman. But with “Twisted Crystal,” there is a sharper flavor to each element, to the interaction of the instruments, the melodic heft, the insistent guitar. Analog synthesizers buzz or chirp. “Jackie’s Daughter” is a referential whirr of genre and eras; a bubblegum clapping beat, distorted as if shoegaze. Synthesizers bubble in something RPG-adjacent. The Guerilla Toss manic-ness — at least the kind I got stuck on — comes out in layer after layer, in the honey-sweet vocals, and in the jamming telephone sounds that they operate against. There is a true feeling of composition — an intelligent and artistic structure to each track, like the bones of a house. You can see the beams, the nails, the patterns that keep it upright — but still you can go inside, just feel the thing around you.
Guerilla Toss formed in 2010 — a bunch of New England Conservatory kids that later found a hardcore vocalist. They are a band made up of a bunch of music nerds, who use analog synthesizers and loose concepts for their albums. They won’t let you guess where their sound is going. Their punk, their surf, their shoegaze have all just been the erratic manifestations of art rock. That’s the greatest strength of “Twisted Crystal,” if I were so inclined to find one; that it reminds old-timers like me that they’re not a band of a particular genre, a band that makes heavy music, a band of prog-ish eccentricity. They are meteorological, if I may — a band of the reactions spurring from changes in temperature, a band so natural it almost seems chimerical.