Guerilla Toss produces bold anthems on ‘Twisted Crystal’

Noah Van Hooser

For nearly eight years, the New York quintet Guerilla Toss, consisting of lead vocalist Kassie Carlson, guitarist Arian Shafiee, drummer Peter Negroponte, keyboardist Sam Lisabeth and bassist Stephen Cooper, has carved a particularly eccentric niche that continuously shapeshifts with each release. With a sonic palette ranging from dance-punk experiments to new wave revivals, the group’s discography exemplifies fluctuating instrumental arrangements which retain punk energy and flare. Twisted Crystal, the band’s third release under the DFA label, sees the band embarking on new forays into colorful compositions.

Straying from the group’s conventionally primal, frenzied sound, the presented tracklist offers a slew of more accessible, immediate melodies, especially with touches of surf rock and classic rock, making their presence felt. The record seemingly shoots for an extraterrestrial aesthetic, weaving UFO-inspired sounds with rapid-fire guitar riffs, as Carlson reels off personal sentiments of alienation and complacency in a universe which alludes comprehension. Eastern-style guitar tuning alongside soaring synthesizers form syrupy, metaphysical passages which aim for nothing short of sensory overload and certainly fulfill their ambitions.

The track “Magic Is Easy” opens the album in sensual fashion, with its flickering synths, which are of a divine nature. Divinity is actually a topic which the band embraces both stylistically and lyrically. On “Jesus Rabbit,” Carlson sings, “Jesus take me from this planet / You’re the leader and I’m your little rabbit,” a subtly degrading shot aimed at both humanity and Christianity. The aptly named “Walls of the Universe” soars toward epic heights in its climax, mirroring the harrowing scale of the cosmos. “Meteorological” likens the volatility of weather conditions to that of states of mind, despairingly acknowledging the unpredictability of human behavior over a wild bass riff.

Although a bit puzzling on cursory listens, “Retreat” rewards patient listeners with a captivating fusion of flutes and ominous bass. Similar to the rest of the record, the track features a bustling instrumental and rabid energy with constantly ascending dynamics. “Green Apple,” the closing track, is a perfectly suitable ending to the album, unleashing an unfettered explosion of sound and charisma. On top of skittering drums that can’t rest content, Carlson’s freakish vocal lines feel otherworldly. The production seems endlessly spiraling, rotating each sound in rhythmically bizarre fashion. The group is cerebral and methodical throughout the tracklist, overlaying a surplus of electronics over space-rock style anthems, creating a brand of psychedelic rock which separates them from all other contemporaries.

For those who feel inclined to jump head first into the winding discography of Guerilla Toss, Twisted Crystal serves as an essential starting point. New production methods are sophisticated and do plenty of justice to the group’s instrumental finesse, contrasted with previous albums which featured shrieky, amateurish production. Ditching the more challenging and obscure elements of their previous efforts in atonal music and noise rock on records like 2016’s “Eraser Stargazer,” this latest project stands as a strong testament to the group’s sonic innovation prowess, channeling the spirit of art rock and post punk into a collection of tunes that’s quite sweet on the ears. For such an effort, the band doesn’t sacrifice much. In fact, the crossroads of accessibility and eccentricity is incredibly appealing in and of itself, paving the way for further development within that already outlandish niche.

Score: 9/10