A MGRM music roundup for you, featuring takes on two distinctly different bands on two distinctly different trajectories, Guerilla Toss and Tears for Fears!
Guerilla Toss – FAMOUSLY ALIVE
Genre: Experimental Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Heathen In Me,” “I Got Spirit,” “Famously Alive,” “Mermaid Airplane”
Guerilla Toss claims to be based out of upstate New York, but if you told me they came from a star at the edge of our known universe, I would 100% believe you. Their sound is a cosmic mishmash of synthetic funk, psychedelic rock, and electropop grooves that could move just about anyone to the dancefloor. As the band gained popularity, their output increased. They released records on James Murphy’s DFA label and lent themselves to a couple of remix albums. They finally came into their own on 2017’s GT ULTRA, sounding like Yeah Yeah Yeahs on IT’S BLITZ mixed with Belew-era King Crimson. So, consider FAMOUSLY ALIVE (their fifth full-length album and first for Sub Pop) a rebirth. Guerilla Toss have refined its sound to be the positive force we need in the world right at this moment.
Like most Guerilla Toss records, FAMOUSLY ALIVE encompasses something beyond a casual listening experience. Over the course of 34 minutes, the band manages to expand their sound beyond anything they’ve released before and capture an amount of energy we haven’t heard from them since GT ULTRA. Singer Kassie Carlson’s voice is hidden by even more AutoTune and vocal effects than in the past, which could be as a detriment to a lesser band. Instead, it mutates Carlson’s vocal abilities to that of a synthesizer, changing her dynamic range and making her sing like more of an instrument than a human. She compliments the already tripped-out bass lines and warbly synth on dreamy tracks like “Wild Fantasy” and “Pyramid Humm.”
Guerilla Toss have traveled to earth to be your intergalactic cheer squad, which we all desperately need as we navigate the pressure of our turbulent era. On “I’ve Got Spirit,” the band pumps up the crowd with the chant, “I don’t care if I don’t have it / I don’t need it / I’ve got spirit!” Carlson promotes self-love and believing in oneself in the build-up of “Live Exponential,” singing, “I’m feeling godly, but just for me.” Another pulsating and repetitive chant comes on “Excitable Girls,” which features a keyboard line reminiscent of Van Halen’s “Jump.” The record ends with the brilliant “Heathen In Me,” as Carlson, in her clearest and confident voice, sings the title along with ‘80s arena rock guitars.
Every morning, it can be nearly impossible to find a reason to crawl out of bed or find joy in everyday living. Guerilla Toss wants you to know that you’re important and unique. We may all be specks of dust in the universe, but each is significant in our ways. It’s time to treat yourself right and start every day off with FAMOUSLY ALIVE, letting it be the caffeine that gets powering through that overabundance of unanswered emails, piles of laundry, and whatever else may be weighing you down. [Jack Probst]
Tears For Fears – THE TIPPING POINT
Genre: Synthpop, Classic Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Break The Man,” “End Of Night,” “Long, Long, Long Time”
There was a moment nearly a decade ago where Tears For Fears felt like they were on the precipice of a credible musical reintroduction; covers of critical darlings like Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, and Hot Chip, coupled with glowing retrospectives surrounding a 30th anniversary reissue of their pop masterclass SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR, created a pathway of relevancy outside of the legacy act tour circuit. It wasn’t out of the realm of reason to believe that, despite their radio mainstay status, 2013 couldn’t have found the band putting out an album that had its fingers on the pulse of modern musical trends, and yet the moment came and went with nothing but whispers of new music.
THE TIPPING POINT, Tears For Fears’ first album in roughly 18 years, realizes some of that potential. However, it took so long to come to fruition that it’s stuck in a holding pattern of what mainstream crossover arena indie rock felt like during that era. Hints of both Coldplay’s dominance (itself in debt to Tears for Fears in many ways) or M83 and Arcade Fire’s foray into spacy, echoing synthpop, would’ve made perfect sense around the time the group decided to tackle “My Girls.” After nine years of label changes, failed collaborations, and a full global pandemic, the group’s sound feels subdued rather than novel. The groovier odysseys on the album, namely “Break The Man” and “End Of Night,” find modern relevance in their established synthpop. The former’s driving programmed drums offer a refreshing sophisti pop disco flavor. But these moments feel few and far between; on an album with plenty of dragged out ballads, “Long, Long, Long Time” stands out as a highlight while the rest force THE TIPPING POINT’s pace to a crawl.
In returning to 2004’s EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING, an album that similarly was late in capturing the sounds of the zeitgeist popular six or seven years prior, I’m struck by how many dynamic ideas are running through it, a freshness in the Britpop and power pop song structures that push the limits of the Tears for Fears image. In its highs, THE TIPPING POINT admirably captures what a Tears For Fears renaissance could be, and is a thoroughly thought out (arguably even overthought out) album, but the highs are few and far between. I’ll never rule out a six minute Pure Moods jam in 2022, but “Rivers of Mercy” isn’t it. [CJ Simonson]