Guerilla Toss GT ULTRA

[DFA; 2017]

Styles: rock, synth rock, kraut rock, hypnagogic rock, hyper-pop
Others: Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock, Cibo Matto, Speed Racer (2008), Pacific Rim (2013), Deerhoof, Sonic the Hedgehog

To begin, Guerilla Toss is a band to be seen live. Last September, I had the chance in Los Angeles. Their set amounted to one of the most impressive and exciting live band experiences I have had. Mixed into the set with older selections were the songs found on GT Ultra. In that context, it was easy to understand that nothing documented here is part of some unnatural evolution. Furthermore, beyond live repertoire and considering only discography, steady intermittent mutations have lent reasonable clues. It should come as no surprise that, on record, Guerilla Toss is a pop band.

This is where even the most forgiving purist might drop off (singer Kassie Carlson: “People are always like, Oh, we liked their first album? People always say that to be cool.”) Of course, there is a remarkable difference between the band’s first releases in 2012 and now, but a righteous listener can be slightly more forgiving and take interest in some untapped potential. The pop direction is a promising premise, and this promise isn’t completely foregone. But while GT ULTRA is as vibrant, imaginative, and jittery a take on pop rock as one would hope for from the psychedelic hypnagogic noise-core forerunners, the resulting loss has less to do with style than it does intention.

GT Ultra presents a turn toward clarity, abandoning the disorientation and overstimulation that characterized Guerilla Toss’ recordings to date. The vocals are clear and in the mix, a 4/4 time signature is presupposed, and formal sections are often demarcated by changes in instrumentation. In fact, the shift toward clarity is so effective that it smooths over many compositional complexities within the songs: the 4/4 + 4/4 + 3/4 + 4/4 verse and 4/4 + 4/4 + 4/4 + 2/4 chorus groove behind “Can I Get the Real Stuff;” the “changing time in my head” tempo drop that completely characterizes “Skull Pop;” the weird shifting, elongated verse melody that announces the album on “Betty Dreams Of Green Men.” It’s clear that none of these flourishes are quite as prodding as the warped beats and forced syncopation of yore, but even if they were, I get the sense that their new packaging would gloss over the edges. The result is an album that is full of musical ingenuity and aural pleasures but lacking in long-term affect or cultural demarcators.

Glorious sounds and charming aesthetic collisions are plentiful on GT Ultra. The “Funky Town” vocoder that graces “Crystal Run” and the bouncy Future Shock night-terror vibe of “TV Do Tell” add up to tracks ideal for the production of a hypothetical new high-concept Sonic platformer. As a whole, however, the blend presents a sort of space between Guerilla Toss as a hard-edged rock band and GT Ultra as a hyper-pop machine. GT Ultra lands mildly in between, without the fervor of identity crisis. A transformation with reckless abandon of genre and context, social meaning falls by the wayside to auditory whims. The non-presumptuous eight tracks are novel and fun, with hope for expansion upon the theme. Beyond that, however, is a sound-identity so isolationist that there is little space for transference or impact.

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