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Torche | Meanderthal
Call me convinced: around 98% of modern rock and pop music exists because someone thought to combine sound x with stance y at time t, played at velocity v which is equivalent to length of attention span, divided by a nostalgia constant which we’ll call n. Drawn out on a two-dimensional graph, we can easily plot the trajectory of said music against t by its second derivative to approximate a lifespan of a particular approach for sound. (If you’re bored by now, just use the graph paper to map out a dungeon for your next RPG campaign. That’s what we were all doing in trigonometry class anyway).
What’s funny is that in 2008, no matter whether you solve the musical equation or tend to your DM duties, you’ll likely end up with something that will, on paper, sound like Torche. What this Miami quartet does is no different than what dozens of male-oriented, short-haired indie rock bands in the waning shadows of Slint and Drive Like Jehu worked out in the ‘90s: cram huge riffs and primary emotions into a dissonant, monolithic rock template–one that by turns had less to do with the punk rock its members were raised on than with the classic rock, progressive touches, and proto-metal underpinnings that their fathers, uncles, and older brothers grew up with. That sense of nostalg…er, n carried many a group to a logical endpoint: Don Caballero to obtuse geometries of sound; A Minor Forest to a major, cataclysmic hurricane of prog-rock bombast; Polvo to Who-styled largesse. It’s just what happens. To keep from making the same record time and again, bands feel the need to reach back to one or two key elements of their sonic makeup and update it based on their previous successes. But since most of the bands of the canon avoided metal as a direct influence–what with alt-rock and grunge writing over that at-the-time passé genre with dunderheaded style and stripey indifference–the places where it did manage to grow were surrounded by obscurant fences and thick weeds, visible to the few.
Torche presents a fitting workaround to this long-dead conundrum–better listening through landscaping. Guitarists Steve Brooks and Juan Montoya pulled themselves up out of Floor, a sludge-metal outfit that favored a glacial, chugging determination, and whose melodies and clean vocals eventually helped to move the band out of the margins. All those elements figure into the Torche sound, which if nothing else updates the incessant and inventive riffing of so much of the ‘90s indie mandate with a blunt, melodic presence, capped off by big drums and bigger amps. If Meanderthal does nothing but strike a balance between, say, the tightly-wound pop expanses of Chavez and the Hessian destruction pummel of Karp, then more power to it. But the fact that Brooks also borrows the champion vocal presence and chording mastery of Dave Grohl certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Torche have come close to mastering these elements, and that’s what sets Meanderthal beyond a gladhandling rehash. Having stepped directly over the grimy tarpit of their in-between EP In Return, Torche bridges the gap since their 2005 debut in much the same way: short songs, high speed, memorable hooks piling up one after another (including a few tasteful borrowings; witness Sonic Youth’s “Mote” being appropriated in “Healer”), and pop sensibilities above all else. Not a moment’s given for the listener to catch up. One after another, Meanderthal’s thirteen tracks earn their keep, skidding between quarter pounders of cataclysmically heavy metal (“Sandstorm,” “Pirana”) and playful, scissoring hard pop (the spectacular octave-based crunch of “Across the Shields” and its emotive follow-up “Sundown”). Tempos burst forth, then slide back into half-time; vocal melodies play at counterpoint to the surging battle of guitars beneath. All the while, Torche builds up to a big payoff with the last three tracks, as the lessons learned within slow down and stretch out. They’re finally mitigated into a resin-melting bong rip of the title track, the band rolling defiantly in doom and happy to do so. They’re through finals. The dragon at the bottom of the cave lies dead. Have a great summer.