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Torche - Songs for Singles

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Artist: Torche

Album: Songs for Singles

Label: Hydra Head

Review date: Oct. 21, 2010

There were probably three to four pretty decent singles that could have been made out of the miniscule new Torche “album,” that’s for sure. Clocking in at just over 21 minutes, and following three career defining sides — their apex, Meanderthal, the four-song EP that came from it, and their bone-crushing half of a split 10” with Boris — Songs for Singles raises more questions than it can answer, and the reductive logic behind much of its content signals a possible change in ideology that isn’t fully represented.

Miami’s Torche is normally a great band, and its members rank as some of the finest purveyors of pop-times-volume working in America today. Mustachioed frontman and guitarist Steve Brooks cut his teeth in the sludge fields of the band Floor, whose swandive album set the template for the gigantic hooks and bowel-shaking loudness that Torche practices to this day. They’ve been a band with a serious “every other record” complex, though — a fine self-titled debut, which instantly put them in the ranks of bands like Chavez and Karp in terms of their ability to balance earthquake rhythmic melodies and a grinning sense of humor, was followed by a lethargic double 10”, In Return, that shared few of these qualities, and dove straight into the shitpile. Meanderthal brought it back, however, and it’s a record I still listen to and enjoy years later. The velocity and energy pushed up against high-gloss, radio-ready guitar rock does a glorious bellyflop into a tarpit of drop-C churn. In the live setting, they push serious air, and not even the theft of most of their equipment has stopped them from running the road and busting eardrums all over the country.

Torche has the tendency to show up the bands with whom they perform alongside. I’ve seen them three times in the same room, and witnessed them grow as a band, from a technical difficulty-plagued contender on the Meanderthal circuit, opening for The Sword, to a bright, precise and cleansing counterpart against openers Harvey Milk, and finally this past August, playing through Boris’ rented equipment. This set, in particular, shook the upper deck of the Music Hall of Williamsburg to the point where I could feel the hair on my arms moving, my innards vibrated against their will, and I was sure the balcony would become unmoored and send me and a hundred others crashing to the floor below. They finished just at the tipping point of my own physical revulsion to the low-end their equipment was pushing out. Enough air displacement for one night; there was no way that the wildly inconsistent power of Boris could have matched what I had just experienced. Few bands can pull this off with any sort of balance, and yet these three men ripped through a lengthy set of favorites from their repertoire, bouncing along maniacally in lockstep rhythm with one another (and most of their songs are pretty speedy to begin with, making me wonder how long they could keep it going).

Yet this is a band that’s faced some personnel changes between all three of these appearances. Founding member and second guitarist Juan Montoya, also of Floor, exited Torche some time after Meanderthal and before Songs for Singles. I’d seen them with Montoya, as a trio, and with an as-yet-unidentified replacement. What he brought to the live setting remains to be seen, but Songs for Singles shows a band that’s caught in the midst of a three-point turn. The first six songs on the record function in classic style: a mechanical drum beat kicks out a T-top convertible rock jammer that this band has been writing since the outset, only now it’s shorter and a little less defined. None of these tracks crack the two-and-a-half minute mark, racing through sun-dappled Van Halen/Grohl-style riffage with a murky economy that suggests a lack of ideas rather than a change of heart. Any of these songs could sound like what you might hear if you dropped the needle near the end of a side-long mid ’70s Rush overture, and while it may be exciting to hear these guys kick it out the first time, there’s little here that’s going to convince longtime followers that there’s anything new under the hood.

The record’s final two songs change it up a bit, moving into a loud guitar-pop/American shoegaze direction. “Face the Wall,” with its glacial monolith wall of distorted guitar, rolls forth in the sort of direction popularized around 1995 by bands like Hum, who were some of the first to fill the void Nirvana and Helmet left on the nation’s sudden switch to alt-rock radio as a viable format. Its surging sonics cool things off in a way that Torche has yet to attempt, and it’s a treat to hear the bubbling muck of previous efforts get rinsed off the slab. After the barrage of sameness that precedes it, this is a welcome thing to experience. The final track, “Out Again,” spends six minutes cooling down even further, along a straightaway chord chug with what sounds like either roto-toms or a banjo following in time way in the back (hey, I said this was a bit murky). Sadly, this one doesn’t advance the cause nearly as much, and merely serves as an extended coda for some scattered song fragments.

Where Torche goes from here is anyone’s guess. We can’t always assume our favorite bands are going to stay great forever, but this time out, more than ever before, it really feels like Brooks and Co. are half-assing it, victory lap style, when they could have soared once again.

By Doug Mosurock

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