Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Torche - Songs for Singles (Album Review)

Torche - Songs for Singles
Release date: September 21, 2010 (Hydra Head Records)

When the biggest complaint you can come up with about a particular album is that it's over way too quickly, that's usually a sign that it's a really good fucking album. Such is the case with Songs for Singles, the latest release from Florida "doom pop" trio Torche. It's the band's first release (outside of one song on a 2009 split single with Boris) without founding guitarist Juan Montoya, but the band hasn't lost any of their signature heft.

At eight songs and barely more than 20 minutes, this EP is a maddeningly brief followup to Torche's exceptional 2008 full-length Meanderthal, which itself was barely more than 35 minutes long. Despite its brevity, however, Songs still offers memorable moments aplenty. It's very much in the same vein as Meanderthal, featuring short, fuzzy bursts of metallic pop rock. Anyone hoping for a return to the sludgier sound of the band's earlier work should probably move on, or just stick to the recent eight-disc Floor box set.

Coming as it does on the heels of said box set, it's hard not to compare the two, but despite Floor's legendary status (at least among stoner rock/doom/drone fans), this new Torche EP compares favorably, primarily in regards to Steve Brooks's singing. Outside of Clutch's Neil Fallon, I can't think of another singer in hard rock whose voice has actually improved with age. Listening to the shouts and growls present on early Floor recordings, it's hard to believe that it's the same guy whose vocal melodies propel Torche past the majority of their peers.

Songs for Singles kicks of with lead single "U.F.O," a driving, catchy little nugget of pop goodness, which, at one minute, 53 seconds, serves as microcosm of the EP as a whole. Torche cranks out ridiculously catchy riffs complemented by Brooks's melodic vocals, but before you have a chance to wrap your head around it, they're already on to the next song. To wit, the first six songs on the EP last a combined 11 minutes, less time than it takes many doom and stoner rock bands - with whom Torche is frequently lumped in - to get through one song.

The last two songs are where things get interesting, as Brooks and company take their collective foot off the gas and follow their more psychedelic leanings. "Face the Wall" is a melancholy, Failure-esque lament with soaring guitar passages, while the six-plus minute closer, "Out Again," has a more upbeat, poppy vibe. Both songs sound as if they could've just as easily wound up as two-minute stoner pop songs, but for whatever reason, Torche decided to flesh them out.

Ultimately, this EP perfectly encapsulates the paradox of Torche. Plenty of bands are critiqued (and often rightfully so) for their grandiosity and self-importance. Tool and Isis are both great bands, but sometimes, in the middle of yet another 10-plus minute epic, it's hard not to roll your eyes at the sheer excess and pomposity of it all. But is it possible to err too far in the other direction? Would Torche be better served by expanding more of their two-minute pop ditties into four- or five-minute songs? It's hard to say with any certainty, so maybe it's better to just appreciate them for what they are: purveyors of frustratingly short yet remarkably memorable hard rock songs, and one of the best bands in underground music today.

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