A return to form for Counting Crows.

Back in the early to mid 90s when their first two albums came out, I was really into Counting Crows. I thought their first album, "August and Everything After", was somewhat inconsistent, but the good songs were great. Then their second album, "Recovering The Satellites", took things to a new level, and was pretty great all the way through. I was most excited about the song "Angels Of The Silences", an upbeat, anthemic tune with heartfelt lyrics that wouldn't have sounded out of place on some of the more rock-based emo albums I was listening to a lot of at the time. There weren't any other songs on the album that sounded like it, which was somewhat of a shame, but with awesome slower, more dramatic tracks like "Another Horsedreamer's Blues" and "Goodnight Elizabeth", as well as some nice pensive midtempo songs like "Daylight Fading" and "Have You Seen Me Lately", I couldn't really complain. I played that album a lot, filing it mentally in the same space that held Buffalo Tom and the early Uncle Tupelo albums.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill for the Crows after that. "This Desert Life", which came out in 1999, was inconsistent to a greater extent than "August And Everything After" had been, and even the best songs on it weren't in the same league as "Angels Of The Silences" or "Another Horsedreamer's Blues". "Hard Candy", from 2002, was even less engaging--I barely liked anything on it. And then they didn't release anything for six years. I figured that, even if they ever came back and made more albums, they were still finished as an interesting creative entity. I felt this was a pity, especially since they'd never written anything else like "Angels Of The Silences". If it was a feat that could never be repeated, then so be it, but I personally would have loved an album with half-a-dozen songs like that one on it, and it was sad to think that it would never come.

"Saturday Nights And Sunday Mornings" came out in March of this year, and all of the reviews I read were so surprisingly laudatory that I had to check it out. People seemed just as surprised as I was that Counting Crows had gotten their shit together to make another album, and even moreso that it was one of the better things they'd ever done. It made me very curious, and before long, I downloaded the album. But for whatever reason, I took a couple of months to listen to it, and only finally played it for the first time two days ago.

What I heard blew me away, starting from the very beginning. The album is divided into two sections; "Saturday Nights", which is the first 6 songs and is produced by former Pixies producer Gil Norton, and "Sunday Mornings", the last 8 songs, which are produced by a guy named Brian Deck. I guess if anything they are more like two EPs pushed together into a full-length than one unified album, and I think this is a big part of what keeps the album from true greatness (for, make no mistake, it's flawed). But it starts with "1492", which comes barrelling in on the back of a frantic snare roll that turns into the exact sort of uptempo, rocking verse that the Crows have previously only done once--on "Angels Of The Silences". As soon as the verse kicks in, Adam Duritz starts singing, and he's singing about himself in a less than flattering way: "I'm a Russian Jew American impersonating African, Jamaican", he starts, and before long, he's saying, "I guess I bought a gun because it impresses all the little girls I see and they all wanna sleep with me." That could sound cocky or full of himself if it weren't for how disgusted by the whole thing he sounds. It's obvious that this verse is there to make fun of himself at his cockier moments, rather than to embody such a thing. And then, when the chorus comes sliding in on a touch of minor-chord melody, it adds the perfect note of melancholy, as Duritz plaintively asks, "Where did we disappear into the silence that surrounds us and then drowns us in the end? Where these people who impersonate our friends say come again, and again, and again." He's obviously feeling a good bit of ambivalence about being famous. But the band doesn't give him time to think, pulling him into the second verse, where "skinny girls who drink champagne... take me on their knees again." From here, Duritz and co. go flying through another chorus into a fiery, impassioned guitar solo the likes of which has rarely been seen on a Counting Crows record. Then into a third verse where Duritz, who has sang the rest of the song in a relatively calm tone, finally gets excited enough to start raising his voice and practically screams the last lines of this verse: "I'm the king of everything, I'm the king of nothing." It seems obvious that he means these two opposing lines to represent a surface appearance of having everything, and all of the emptiness that lies underneath. "1492" is a blazing song throughout, and matches up with the intensity of "Angels Of The Silences" both lyrically and musically--the first time Counting Crows have ever done such a thing.

And amazingly enough, it's not even the only song on "Saturday Nights" that does this. After four albums in which the closest they ever came to duplicating the feat they achieved with "Angels Of The Silences" (the closest they came, if you ask me, is "August And Everything After"s "A Murder Of One", which predates "Angels" and can if anything be seen as a prelude to what they were going to do on that song), they manage to do so not once but twice on their fifth album. Once is with "1492", the song that begins the "Saturday Nights" portion of the album, and the other is with the song that ends that section, "Cowboys". This song is pretty much the longest track on the album (actually, "Anyone But You", from the "Sunday Mornings" section, is one second longer, but who's counting), and uses its 5 and a half minute length to stretch into a driving epic that locks into a theme early on and never lets go of it. Unlike "1492", which is a rocker through and through, "Cowboys" has quieter sections interspersed throughout. The thing that makes it spiritually akin to "Angels Of The Silences" despite having a lot less of an obvious resemblance than does "1492" is its constantly driving tempo. Sometimes it's only the drummer tapping a stick against the rim of a drum that keeps things moving along at such a frenetic clip, while at other times the entire band is locked in together and wailing, but always things are kept moving and flowing forward in the sort of driving motion that has rarely been heard in any Counting Crows song.

The lyrics to "Cowboys" seem much less autobiographical than those of "1492", telling the sort of story that Adam Duritz has set to music in the past. Longtime Counting Crows fans will see resonances in lyrics like "If I was a hungry man with a gun in my hand and some promises to keep who wanted to change the world, what's as easy as murder?" Yes, this has points where it seems like some sort of murder ballad, but it's nothing as simple as that. There are points where I feel like it's a song about politics and frustration with same, heavily shrouded in metaphor; for example, "The President's in bed tonight but he can't get to sleep, because all the cowboys on the radio are killers," but some of the political references are actually in service of a completely different metaphorical situation. "She says she doesn't love me, like... like she's acting, but it's as if she isn't talking, because Mr. Lincoln's head is bleeding, all over the front row while she's speaking." This is a pretty interesting use of a presidential-assassination reference; as almost a side note, just to emphasize the central point about the girl in question's self-conscious melodramatics not getting the attention she wants it to generate, because all around her more important things are happening. And by the way, I love the way Duritz stumbles over the word "like" in that line. He sounds rattled, in a way that's perfect for the rest of the song. The unifying tone of the rushed, frantic musical backing on this track is unease, discomfort. I'm not sure what the whole thing is really about, but I definitely get the vibe throughout that Duritz is pleading, trying to find some sort of relief for everything in his life that's making him feel so fucked up. In the end, the lyrics are more a catalog of disturbances than a coherent narrative, and the thing that brings it all together is the chorus: "This is a list of what I should have been, but I'm not. This is a list of the things that I should have seen, but I'm not seeing." The third line of the chorus changes every time, as does part of the fourth, but the last line always ends "I am not anything." This is most affecting at the end of the song, as Duritz pleads with someone, "Won't you look at me? Because I'm not seeing you look at me. And I will make you look at me, or I am not anything." This seems like a pretty obvious reference to his own craving for attention, for the spotlight, which is apparently something he's struggled with over the course of his time as a famous person. After all, we all know that Adam Duritz spent some time dating Hollywood starlets. But these days, according to an article I read recently, he has a girlfriend who isn't famous at all, whom he met through friends who also aren't famous. I think there's definitely some re-evaluation that went on during the six-year hiatus from recording that Counting Crows took, and I think we're seeing some of the results come out in Duritz's lyrics this time around.

I've spent a lot of time on two songs from this album, and they're by far the two that have affected me the most, but none of that is to say that the rest of the songs aren't good in their own ways. We don't get any more "Angels Of The Silences" successors, but honestly, two is enough at this point to make me feel pretty good. And there are some other really great songs on this record; for example, "Hanging Tree", the second track on the album, brings back that whole midtempo Buffalo Tom vibe that songs like "Daylight Fading" created in the past, and does so well. "Los Angeles" is a bit silly, especially at the end where Duritz starts babbling in a carnival-barker voice about finding "some skinny girls and going streetwalking!" It's obviously a joke, and when combined with the more serious lyrics, seems to make a more serious underlying point: that the life of a celebrity in Los Angeles might make one feel awesome in the short term, but underneath it's all really empty. As I mentioned before, this is a pretty prevalent theme in Duritz's lyrics on this album. The slower, folkier "Sundays" features catchy verses and a surprising and affecting pensive minor-chord melody on the choruses that add depth to an otherwise slight song.

You'll notice that so far I've only talked about tracks from the "Saturday Nights" side of the album. This is not by accident. Honestly, I think "Sunday Mornings" suffers from being separated from the "Saturday Nights" tracks. The closest that section comes to an upbeat track is the final song, "Come Around", which does a great job of ending the album and is one of my favorite songs here. However, between "Cowboys" and "Come Around" are 7 songs, all of which are slow, quiet, acoustic tunes. Some of them are great--"Washington Square", for example, or "You Can't Count On Me"--while others would probably sound better if there were more uptempo tunes mixed in, instead of leaving them floating in a morass of soundalike slow songs that start to draaaaag after a while. But as it is, I definitely want to edit a few of these tracks out when I listen to the album all the way through. "Le Ballet Dor" and "On A Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago" are the two biggest offenders to my mind, but this may be because they are the last two tracks before "Come Around". Really, the problem is not with any individual track. The problem is with 7 quiet acoustic songs in a row ("Come Around" being the only electrically-based "Sunday Mornings" song). It's just too much of a quiet moody thing, and especially after the uptempo triumphs of the "Saturday Nights" side, it's hard to keep from zoning out or wanting to just start the whole album over and listen to "1492" again. I feel like I'd have a much easier time appreciating the gems here (which do sound pretty good when listened to on their own) if they weren't all back to back to back.

In the end, though, I can't deny that this is the best Counting Crows album since "Recovering The Satellites". I haven't wanted to own one of their records since that album, which was over a decade ago, but I'm actually seriously considering purchasing "Saturday Nights And Sunday Mornings." I don't think that's a purchase I'd regret. Hopefully, they'll keep it together going forward from here, and make some other really good albums, but I guess we'll have to see.



Truncated title: one hit wonders.

Full Title: "In Praise Of Truly Awesome, Now-Forgotten One Hit Wonders From the MTV 'Buzz Bin' Era"

[This may turn out to be Part 1 of a continuing series, but I won't really know until I decide to write a Part 2.]

Hey, do any of you remember Whale? "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe"? I figure that if you're in your mid to late 20s or early 30s and grew up watching tons of MTV throughout your middle and/or high school years, you have a pretty strong likelihood of answering in the affirmative. But the rest of you are going to need an explanation.

Back in 1993, when MTV still played videos and its "Buzz Bin", the feature that they used to promote new and unusual artists, was far more liberal than any FM radio playlist (and to think that this was before Clear Channel--imagine what a stark contrast to radio that it would draw now!), bands like Ween, Crash Test Dummies, and Urban Dance Squad found themselves thrown into heavy rotation despite their unusual sound due to catching the attention of one programmer or another. A great deal of the artists who came to the public's attention during the post-Nirvana alternative rock boom made their name based on having a video selected for the Buzz Bin. Some of these artists are well-loved to this day (and I'm sure younger fans of bands like Ween and the Flaming Lips sometimes wonder how the hell bands that weird ever got popular in the first place). Others, however, were never able to convert their moment in the sun into a more longstanding career, and had soon been completely forgotten.

Whale is definitely one of the latter, and I'm not going to deny that there's a reason for that. After a recent reminder of their existence, I looked into their career as a whole and found it tremendously underwhelming. However, their one Buzz Bin hit, "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe", has a charm and power that's undeniable. Of course, I'd forgotten all about it years ago, and only remembered it when I took part in a recent message board discussion about early 90s Buzz Bin videos. People were posting Youtube links, and this led me to watch the video all over again. And although in my memory it was just a weird, silly song, I realized from watching the video that there was more than that going on. Specifically, there's an undercurrent of subversion throughout the song's lyrics that is made far more obvious by various elements of the video.

See, the whole thing purports to be a dismissal, a mockery, of a "hobo humpin slobo babe"--which may have been slang derived from the youth culture of Whale's native Sweden, or may have been a phrase they made up and used because it sounded funny, but either way is pretty obviously translated to "ugly slut". The song begins with its chorus, which is sung by guitarist Henrik Schyffert and bassist Gordon Cyrus. "You hobo humpin slobo babe, get it off, get off, get off of me!" they repeat over and over, following this with a chant of, "Baby we don't love you, baby we don't love you." The shots of Henrik and Gordon singing the chorus have been alternated with shots of a girl walking along a line of boys wearing what everyone who has ever seen the video have referred to as "tinfoil bikinis", but are probably actually tinfoil miniskirts if anything. She's licking a lollipop lasciviously and running her fingertips along the exposed midriffs of the boys, and while this is contrasted with the boy-sung chorus, it probably seems like condemnation. That is, until the chorus ends, the two of them step aside, and from behind them comes walking the hobo humpin' slobo babe in question, played in the video by Whale lead vocalist Cia Soro. And of course, she's funny-looking. The true opening shot of the video, sometimes obscured by overrun from the video before and therefore not even seen, is a full-screen shot of Cia smiling widely, revealing comically huge braces on her teeth:

The braces are obvious as she sings, as is the out-of-control frizzy mop of hair on her head. During the shots of her with the boys in the tinfoil miniskirts, she's wearing a red-and-white checked babydoll dress and combat boots, and under the dress (we see under it several times during the course of the video, for a variety of reasons), she's wearing ridiculous white granny panties. In the shots in which the band is playing the song, she's wearing a huge gray trenchcoat that makes it appear that she's wearing nothing underneath. Apparently, the braces were real, as was reported in articles about the band at the time (although in every other Whale video I've ever seen, including "Pay For Me", which dates from around the same time, she doesn't have them), but the out-of-control hair and the goofy clothes were almost certainly done for effect. The fact is, even with the braces and the hair and the clothes, anyone who takes a minute to get beyond those surface distractions is going to notice that Cia Soro is quite attractive, even in the "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe" video, and DEFINITELY anywhere else you may see her (she now makes a living as a Swedish television presenter). Here's what she looks like in other circumstances:

But of course, the braces and the goofy hair/clothes are intentional misdirections, recreating the sorts of things that turn off shallow guys before they really get to know a girl.

Which doesn't mean they won't mess around with her in private, so long as no one knows about it. And as soon as Cia starts singing, she sets about skewering that exact mentality, bursting the bubble of the dudes who are trying to dismiss her. She begins by describing herself: "Seeking candy on the shore. Lost her eyesight, teeth are poor. Left for dead, back for more." She freely admits that she wants the same thing that the guys are accusing her of wanting, that she is not exactly a perfect female specimen, and that she knows they've blown her off--which does nothing to stop her from continuing her quest. At this point, she's basically responded to the condemnations of the boy-sung chorus with, "Yeah, so?" And she isn't done, either. Next verse: "Seeking candy who sleeps around." In the video, as soon as she delivers this line, she leans over and licks the armpit of the nearest tinfoil-miniskirted boy. And you know a million 15 year old boys sitting on couches across America yelled, "Eww, gross!", even as they were thinking, "Whoa, that's kinda hot." "Afraid of telling--tiny sounds," Cia continues, and this verse points out what the boys really don't want her to get into: that even as they act like she's below their standards, they're enjoying every minute of it. That the only thing that keeps them from admitting it is fear of what their friends will say. And now she's blowing their cover completely, especially as she finally reaches the chorus. Up until this point, she's sung her verses in a high, playful tone. Even as the words take a defensive tone, she maintains a sweet singing style. But then, that all goes by the wayside as she reaches the chorus. "But you," she says in the final line of her verse, delivering the word "you" with an unmistakable undercurrent of contempt, "you always came BACK FOR MORE!" She screams the last three words, even as the band slams back into the chorus and Henrik and Gordon start singing again.

Up to this point, I haven't talked about the music. The combination of the lyrics and the imagery in the video is a great deal of what makes the song entertaining, but it'd be nothing without a good song to lay it all over. And "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe" is that, though it's pretty weird as well. The chorus the song begins with is based around a funky riff that is played with some distortion but still retains a mostly soulful groove sort of feel. Then, when Cia starts singing, the guitar drops out completely and the rhythm section keeps an understated but bouncy groove going throughout the verse. Apparently this song was a dance-club hit in Europe, and I can sort of understand why, although it seems a bit too weird for kids in America to ever dance to. But when the chorus comes back in after Cia's first verses, there's an added layer of guitar distortion that wasn't there in the beginning of the song, making it sound heavier. After a third verse sung by Cia, which is again quiet and guitar-less but features her snarling out the word "misunderstood" at the end, before once again declaring, "You always came back for more!" From here on, the chorus riff is pretty much constant, with the guitars getting more and more discordant and feedback-laced, up to the end of the song. At one point, even as Henrik and Gordon are still singing the chorus and still blasting out the chorus riff (which has by now gotten so distorted that it's buried its basic funky groove under layers of noise and feedback), Cia starts singing her verse again, and in the video, she's walking past the line of boys in tinfoil miniskirts, slapping each of them in the ass with her lollipop as she goes. This is my favorite part of the song; I really appreciate the overt contrast between Cia's sweet vocals and the wall of distortion and screaming coming from Henrik and Gordon. Eventually the song falls apart completely, trailing off into feedback, over which Cia sings "Back for more" several times, until eventually she's the only thing left.

I really like the way this song's lyrics work on multiple levels, the way it pretends to be a typical male condemnation of girls having the audacity to be less than perfect and still want to get laid. But pretty quickly it becomes obvious that instead of exemplifying this attitude, it's subverting and making fun of it. By the end of the song, you can't help but root for Cia Soro, in all her funny-looking glory. She seems like she'd actually be a lot more fun than the type of girls for which dudes typically pass over girls like her.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, Whale never did anything else that was the equal of this track. This might be explained by the theory, advanced by at least one website, that Whale initially formed just to record "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe" as a joke. Their first single contained that song and a minute-long B-sde, and it wasn't until the next year that they released a 5-song EP, "Pay For Me". The first two songs on this EP, the title track and "I Think No," are in the same basic style as "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe", although they aren't as good. The rest of the EP, and their first full-length, 1995's "We Care", are mostly made up of dance-pop tracks (although "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe" is awkwardly shoved into the middle of "We Care"). They had a moderate hit with "We Care"'s leadoff track, "Kickin", but it sounds nothing like "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe", fitting more into the sort of mellow, danceable pop vein that was being explored by The Cardigans at that time. Like The Cardigans and their earlier material, this era of Whale still featured some elements of subversiveness underneath the charming pop exterior, but Whale didn't have the songwriting chops to compete with The Cardigans at their own game, and should probably have stuck to goofy slabs of noise-funk.

None of this, however, takes away from the fact that "Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe" is a great song; in fact, I'd go so far as to call it a lost classic. For those of you who haven't heard it in a long time (or at all), I am proud to present a copy that you can add to your Ipod and let it surprise you when you're using the shuffle function:

Whale - Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe

But really, anyone who is unfamiliar with this track won't get the full experience unless they see the video. And fortunately for us all, Youtube has it available for your viewing pleasure. And so, without further ado:



The new Torche album has won me over.

See, I never used to like Torche that much. Granted, I've seen them live twice--once because I was there to see Capsule and decided to stick around, once because they were opening for Jesu--and I've definitely heard their previous albums quite a bit, mostly because a bunch of friends of mine are really into them. But they've always left me cold before now. However, with their new album, "Meanderthal", I've suddenly found myself really enjoying their music.

Torche started off as a reincarnation of the band Floor. Floor were a stoner-rock band from Florida, and the only constant member over their decade or so of existence, singer/guitarist Steve Brooks, is also the leader of Torche. Apparently when guitarist Juan Montoya (formerly of Cavity) joined Floor in 2004, Brooks decided that he brought something new to the band, and that they should change their name and get a fresh start. Thus, with the addition of a new rhythm section, Torche was born. And there was definitely more of a melodic sense to their first couple of records that differentiated them from anything Floor had done. However, it wasn't really enough to win me over. While I'd liked Floor, I'd never thought they were amazing or anything. Their brand of stoner-rock was one that was done quite well by several other bands that I heard long before I ever heard Floor (the aforementioned Cavity, Eyehategod, 16), and Floor didn't bring in anything new or original enough to stand alongside any of those bands in my estimation. If anything, I liked them slightly less than I liked Floor. On their first two albums, 2005's self-titled debut and 2007's "In Return", they added enough melody to the foundation created by Floor to stand out as something different than what had come before. However, instead of adding new dimension to the previous Floor sound, I felt like all Torche had really done by adding those melodic hints was water their sound down. Brooks's vocals were delivered in a clean tone more often, but you couldn't really say that he was doing all that much singing of any note. Generally, he just rode whatever root notes the chords of the songs were based around. This unexciting vocal style took away the power of the previous screamed vocals without adding anything new and worthwhile in its place, and just made me miss the screams on the Floor records. What's more, the melodic overtones of the riffing were still very subtle, and didn't so much add a new element of melody to Torche's brand of stoner-rock as take away some of the power that had existed in their previous incarnation as Floor, and replace it with... well, not much. On the whole, I felt like Torche, at least on their first two albums, were just a decent if not amazing stoner-rock group with a lot of their previous vitality sucked out.

All of that changed when I heard "Meanderthal". It snuck up on me--my friend Mambo, a Florida native and die-hard booster of all things hailing from his home state, played "Across The Shields" during his DJ set at a local bar. Sitting at a table with some friends, I found myself tapping my foot. In fact, I was really into the song, so much so that I had to ask Mambo what it was. Walking over to the DJ booth, I expected him to tell me that I was hearing a new track from one of the more metal-influenced emo bands of recent years... Thrice, maybe. Instead, he surprised me by saying, "This is the new Torche album." I was surprised, and the look on my face must have made that obvious, because he immediately said, "They've gotten really melodic on this new album. There are some songs that still sound like what they were doing before, but then other songs sound like... this." I immediately resolved to check it out.

And while I can't say that the whole album is perfect, I must admit that I like it a good deal more than I've liked anything else by Torche. It's funny, because the very elements of their sound that I thought watered them down before are the elements that I enjoy the most on "Meanderthal". It's like they just weren't taking them far enough before, and now that they've pushed the melodic vocals and riffing even more towards the forefront, they've created a sound I haven't heard before, one that I really do like. My previous comparison to Thrice might be a bit misleading; the only tracks by that band that really sound much of anything like the new Torche material are the heaviest tracks on "Vheissu" and "The Alchemy Index Volume I: Fire". The basis of all of these tracks, even the most melodic ones, are down-tuned, groovy biker-rock riffs that would probably work just as well if recontextualized by the likes of Eyehategod or, alternately, Motorhead. And there are still songs here that firmly ground themselves in stoner-rock: "Sandstorm" and "Amnesian" spring immediately to mind. In the context created by their first two albums, I probably wouldn't like these songs too much. However, on "Meanderthal", surrounded as they are by more melodic offerings like "Across The Shields" and "Grenades", along with gap-bridging power-metal interludes like "Triumph Of Venus" and "Little Champion", these songs work just as well for me as the more melodic ones do.

Of course, if we're to talk about the album's highlights, it's those more melodic tracks that must be spotlighted. It's my firm belief that these songs, of which there are only 5 or 6 out of the 13 total tracks here, improve the quality of the entire album, even the tracks that aren't as melodic, simply by establishing a different context than the one that existed on their earlier records. The album starts out with the instrumental intro "Triumph Of Venus", which has the rolling, bombastic groove of a stoner-rock intro, but is much faster and features an absolutely triumphant lead riff that turns it into something almost Iron Maiden-like. From there, they slam immediately into "Grenades", which, while not the catchiest song on the album, is close to it, and definitely gets your head nodding immediately. The melodic verses and deftly sung vocals (which have come to feature enough melodic variety to more than justify themselves) might even be enough to fool one of your emo friends if you were to slip this track inbetween Thrice and Coheed and Cambria on your next mix for them--although the half-speed choruses might be enough to give away the game.

The album reverts to more conventional Torche territory on the next three songs, which alternate between the sort of speedy biker-core that bands like Coliseum are becoming known for ("Pirana" and "Speed of the Nail") and full-on stoner-rock to throw the longtime fans a bone ("Sandstorm"). But then comes the one-two punch of two of the album's best songs, together striking about as high a note as one could imagine. "Healer" follows in the footsteps set down by "Grenades", maintaining a little bit of stoner-rock groove even as a much more overt melodicism is introduced. But "Across The Shields", which is my pick for best song on the album, and which I fervently hope will dictate Torche's direction on future releases, brings us the most overt melody on the album. If anything, this is Torche's "Can I Play With Madness", the dropping of any pretense towards previously set standards of metal-ness in favor of an out and out pop single that has the heavy guitars and metal production of their previous work, but uses those elements to create something 100 times catchier than anything previously imagined. If I'm not careful, it's possible for me to let "Across The Shields" have the same effect for me on the rest of "Meanderthal" that "Can I Play With Madness" sometimes has for me on "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son"; next to its overwhelming catchiness, the rest of the album just sounds dull and boring, and all I can stand to do is listen to that one song on repeat, over and over for at least an hour. Fortunately, this temptation hasn't taken me over too many times just yet, and I've played the rest of "Meanderthal" often enough that I've been able to learn to enjoy it as a whole.

"Across The Shields" is followed by "Sundown", which is the most interesting mix yet of Torche's stoner-rock past and melodic future. It's one of the slowest tracks here, plodding along at the sort of pace one would expect from a head-crushing doom metal song. However, instead of crushing heads, it's based entirely around a melodic chorus that moves it more into the territory of a ballad, if anything. The riffing is still heavy enough not to make it cloying, but it's definitely a slow, melodic track that, in its execution, offers yet another direction that Torche may choose to move forward in the future.

The second half of the album is far less melodically based than the first half, and is made up of longer, heavier songs than those that constitute the first side. "Without A Sound" is still more based in melody than stoner heaviness, although it's not quite as good as "Grenades" or "Healer". "Fat Waves" features a faster tempo and more melodic riffing at first, but soon it drops into a slower, heavier groove, which sets the stage for the longest song here, the penultimate "Amnesian". Torche fans who were more pleased with "In Return" than "Meanderthal" will probably consider this track a highlight of the album, as it will place them on familiar territory. However, I don't enjoy it nearly as much as I do most of the songs here, and at 6 and a half minutes in length, it does a lot to try my patience. The closing title track is more of the same, and is if anything even sludgier and less interesting than "Amnesian", which at least starts off decently before falling into the endlessly-repeated pounding loop that draws out the ending for way too long. The title track consists entirely of another one of those pounding loops, and following directly on the heels of "Amnesian", it's a bit more than I can take. If "Amnesian" had appeared earlier in the album, with more of the songs that I enjoy keeping the two most monotonous doom-metal tracks here separate, I would probably be far less inclined to turn this album off as it approaches the end. That said, it's still a very enjoyable album, certainly a good bit better than anything else Torche has done. And I definitely like it enough to consider myself a Torche fan going forward from this point. I just hope they pursue the new directions "Meanderthal" has opened up more thoroughly on their future releases.

Torche - Grenades
Torche - Across The Shields
Torche - Fat Waves