Music Review: Guerilla Toss – Twisted Crystal

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Guerilla Toss

Twisted Crystal

[DFA; 2018]

Rating: 3/5

Doubling down on the move toward cleaned-up, synthy, punky, hyperactive pop music that they had established with last year’s GT ULTRA, Guerilla Toss return with the more confidently playful, more vibrant, and somewhat more convincing release that is Twisted Crystal. If the band maintains pace with their output and continues their inert but gradual motion into new territory (this is their third full-length in a row released with little more than a year in between), we can stay hopeful for what’s to come. But right now, I feel like an onlooker peeking in on a process, waiting for something of greater coherence and vision.

On Twisted Crystal, it’s a more caricatured form of this post-industrial psychedelic new wave. Melodic writing feels more crucial here than it has been for the band in the past. Playful, often simple hooks bounce off of counterpoint lines in the guitar and synth, strengthening singer Kassie Carlson’s presence as the lead in their work. For me, her schoolyard melodies are often reminiscent of the more decidedly immature inclinations of early Brian Eno or Talking Heads, such as the nee-ner-nee-ner taunt of “Jesus Rabbit,” the hazardous chromaticism and sudden leaps of “Hacking Machine,” and the onomatopoetic ascending scale run that serves as the hook to “Come Up With Me” (this one is opened by a playful riff that, for a moment, places them next to big-league DIY compatriots and rock revivalists Sheer Mag, A Giant Dog, Diarrhea Planet, and Hank Wood & The Hammerheads). Atop of this bouncing, melodic genre pastiche, Carlson alternately borrows the surreal and hazy distance of disco and yé-yé in her vocal affect, especially notable on “Retreat” and “Jackie’s Daughter.”

Throughout, Carlson’s voice is clearer here, and although it is more mildly delivered, the control allows a character to emerge. Liner notes point to Grace Jones as an inspiration for Carlson’s vocal delivery. I don’t think I would have made that connection myself, but it is fairly noticeable in her spoken word cadence. This connection got me thinking about the band’s relation to the camp aesthetic that Jones utilized in her own work. Sianne Ngai (a theorist I think about too often) has shown how zany aesthetics are both a result and an expression of our experiences under late capitalism (Ngai’s primary examples are the buzzing antics of Lucille Ball and the creepily compulsive nature of Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy; I personally turned to Ngai’s thoughts about zaniness to better understand the work of Kero Kero Bonito for this site). New wave pop icons of postmodernism such as Grace Jones, Paul Reubens, George Michaels, Laurie Anderson, Devo, and Prince took advantage of the suddenly prominent vibrant kitsch aesthetic that new wave brought forth, queering popular culture and/or offering subtle critiques of mass consumerism.

It’s hard to locate any such critique in Guerilla Toss, but it feels like a worthwhile and important territory that they may be on the verge of stepping into. Here I see Carlson’s performance identity holding serious potential for further conceptual development both lyrically and visually. The video for “Meteorological,” for instance, draws on the De-Evolutionist lyrics of the song (“I want to be natural/ Meteorological”) to conjure Carlson at the center of a weather forecast bit with a Cindy Sherman bent. The resulting video relies heavily on visual tropes of certain political art styles (camp aesthetics, visibly low-budget visual effects, cyber-culture insignia) without the thematic content to substantiate it.

In a similar way, Guerilla Toss seem to be making a lot of noise — and perhaps reigning it in to permit themselves a larger platform — but their left-of-center aesthetics signal a political core that isn’t delivered upon and may not actually exist. They’ve left the cutting edge musically, which can have valuable results, but here it feels ambivalent and a little tidy. It comes off as a somewhat glib contribution to the strange and nebulous contemporary realm of cyber punk. It’s new and inventive, but less inspiring than what the band has delivered in the past and less exciting than the artists who have picked up what Guerilla Toss dropped when exiting the avant-garde. Current projects like Kero Kero Bonito, Palberta, Machinegirl, Crying, Birthing Hips, Fire-Toolz, and Downtown Boys all utilize a similar vocabulary to that of Guerilla Toss (many of these artist seem to be progenitors in some way of Guerilla Toss in the first place) and carry that lexicon to new radical formations in both sound and content. I’m keeping hopeful that Guerilla Toss push to formalize their wandering and present a record with the energy and impact of their live shows. Until then, Twisted Crystal.

Guerilla Toss – “Come Up With Me”

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Guerilla TossNext week, Guerilla Toss is releasing a new album, Twisted Crystal, making it their third album in three years following last year’s GT Ultra and 2016’s Eraser Stargazer. Their batting average is high and Twisted Crystal is yet another great entry in the band’s discography. We’ve heard two tracks from the … More »

Guerilla Toss – “Green Apple”

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Guerilla TossA little over a year ago, Guerilla Toss released GT Ultra, which turned out to be one of the best albums of 2017. And last month, we got the news that the achievements of GT Ultra wouldn’t slow down Guerilla Toss’ steady output; its followup, Twisted Crystal, arrives this September. We … More »

Guerilla Toss announce new album Twisted Crystal on DFA, share new video, announce Donkey Kong Country-sized fall tour

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For those who count themselves among the insufferable people who relish Guerilla’s Toss’ earlier work to the explicit disregard of the band’s more recent, arguably more accessible albums: I’ve got bad news for you.

Kassie Carlson and company aren’t inanimate objects that only respond when handled or thrown into a tall grass; they’re mortal, and as such, their musical style changes more or less in accordance with their lives, as Carlson testified to in a semi-recent interview. Somehow people get it in their heads that bands are obligated to stick to a certain style that proved initially infatuating, but most of us also forget how difficult that is without sounding redundant; so it’s a careful line that artists consciously or unconsciously have to draw. Evolution without alienation. Game of Thrones without that character you loved. Or, in the case of this extremely busy, variably-staffed outfit based out of New York: manic without noise.

We’ll see how the upcoming album Twisted Crystal turns out on the whole, but all signs point to it being a natural continuation of the poppy intrigue and clarity found on their album from last year, GT ULTRA. Listen to the track, “Meteorological,” below, for instance. The music seems to occupy this alluring middle ground between actually poppy and an inherent wildness. Principle songwriter Peter Negroponte has some definite guerilla tossing skills.

You can pre-order Twisted Crystal, which comes out September 14 on DFA Records, here. Check out a plethora of fall tour dates below, as well.

Twisted Crystal tracklisting:

01. Magic Is Easy
02. Jesus Rabbit
03. Meteorological
04. Hacking Machine
05. Retreat
06. Come Up With Me
07. Walls Of The Universe
08. Jackie’s Daughter
09. Green Apple


09.17.18 – Winooski, VT – The Monkey House
09.18.18 – Montreal, QC – l’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle
09.19.18 – Toronto, ON – The Baby G
09.20.18 – Cleveland, OH – Mahall’s
09.21.18 – Athens, OH – The Union
09.22.18 – Chicago, IL – The Hideout
09.24.18 – Milwaukee, WI – Cactus Club
09.25.18 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th St. Entry
09.26.18 – Omaha, NE – Reverb Lounge
09.27.18 – Lawrence, KS – White Schoolhouse
09.28.18 -Denver, CO – Hi-Dive
09.29.18 – Salt Lake City, UT – Diabolical Records
09.30.18 – Boise, ID – Funky Taco
10.02.18 – Butte, MT – Covellite Theater
10.03.18 – Spokane, WA – Bartlett
10.04.18 – Seattle, WA – Vera Project
10.05.18 – Portland, OR – Bunk Bar
10.06.18 – Eugene, OR – Lorax
10.07.18 – Arcata, CA – Outer Space
10.09.18 – Redding, CA – The Dip
10.10.18 – San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
10.11.18 – Los Angeles, CA – Zebulon
10.12.18 – San Deigo, CA – Whistle Stop
10.13.18 – Tijuana, Mexico – Moustache
10.14.18 – Phoenix, AZ – LBX
10.15.18 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
10.19.18 – Austin, TX – Hotel Vegas
10.20.18 – Denton, TX – Dan’s Silverleaf
10.23.18 – Nashville, TN – The End
10.24.18 – Asheville, NC – Mothlight
10.25.18 – Durham, NC – Wicked Witch
10.27.18 – Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
10.28.18 – Cambridge, MA – Elk’s Lodge
10.30.18 – Providence, RI – Columbus Theater

Guerilla Toss – “Meteorological” Video

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Guerilla Toss - Twisted CrystalLast year, Guerilla Toss topped themselves with GT Ultra, which landed on our list of the best albums of 2017. The New York-based psychedelic crew are back at it again with Twisted Crystal, their third new album in as many years. It’ll be out in the fall, and today they’re sharing its lead … More »

Guerilla Toss – “Spider Heard”

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Guerilla Toss released one of last year’s best albums, GT Ultra, and they’re back in the studio working on another full-length that’s due out later this year. But before that, they’re sharing a leftover from the GT Ultra sessions, a song that was cut from it for runtime purposes. And “Spider Heard” definitely sounds … More »

Watch: Guerilla Toss – “Betty Dreams Of Green Men”

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I think one of the more underrated facets to the psychedelic experience is the state of frenzy. It’s a very curious blend of sensory slush, dosed with far too much paranoia. At points, it can be amusing when you ground a little to recognize the silliness of such uncertainty. Conversely, the frantic self-antagonism that comes with that is also enough to drive you mad. Unpleasant, to say the least.

“Betty Dreams of Green Men” by Guerilla Toss is totally the former. It’s a frenzied body high from the start, the sound of wanting to rub your face on scruffy, dead, pink grass. That nagging, lysergic-induced paranoia is there but it hasn’t eaten into your mind yet. It’s quite the kaledeidoscopic roll; in a state like this, it’s hard not to want to indulge in some primal gyration born out of suspended inhibitions. Anything to keep you moving, it’s essential you keep your mind moving. Guerilla Toss are adept at that sort of unhinged, psych-pop that encapsulates this vibe. If it’s this uninhibited with “Betty Dreams of Green Men,” the peak must truly be stellar.

“Betty Dreams of Green Men” is the lead track off of Guerilla Toss’s new album GT Ultra, available through DFA Records.

Jay Glass Dubs vs. Guerilla Toss – “Skull Dub”

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Guerilla Toss’ GT Ultra is by far one of the best albums of the year, and next month a few of the songs on it are getting dub mixes courtesy of Greek producer Jay Glass Dubs (aka Dimitris Papadatos). They’ll all be packaged on an EP appropriately titled Jay Glass Dubs vs. Guerilla … More »

Music Review: Guerilla Toss – GT ULTRA

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Guerilla Toss


[DFA; 2017]

Rating: 3/5

To begin, Guerilla Toss is a band to be seen live. Last September, I had the chance in Los Angeles. Their set amounted to one of the most impressive and exciting live band experiences I have had. Mixed into the set with older selections were the songs found on GT Ultra. In that context, it was easy to understand that nothing documented here is part of some unnatural evolution. Furthermore, beyond live repertoire and considering only discography, steady intermittent mutations have lent reasonable clues. It should come as no surprise that, on record, Guerilla Toss is a pop band.

This is where even the most forgiving purist might drop off (singer Kassie Carlson: “People are always like, Oh, we liked their first album? People always say that to be cool.”) Of course, there is a remarkable difference between the band’s first releases in 2012 and now, but a righteous listener can be slightly more forgiving and take interest in some untapped potential. The pop direction is a promising premise, and this promise isn’t completely foregone. But while GT ULTRA is as vibrant, imaginative, and jittery a take on pop rock as one would hope for from the psychedelic hypnagogic noise-core forerunners, the resulting loss has less to do with style than it does intention.

GT ULTRA by Guerilla Toss

GT Ultra presents a turn toward clarity, abandoning the disorientation and overstimulation that characterized Guerilla Toss’ recordings to date. The vocals are clear and in the mix, a 4/4 time signature is presupposed, and formal sections are often demarcated by changes in instrumentation. In fact, the shift toward clarity is so effective that it smooths over many compositional complexities within the songs: the 4/4 + 4/4 + 3/4 + 4/4 verse and 4/4 + 4/4 + 4/4 + 2/4 chorus groove behind “Can I Get the Real Stuff;” the “changing time in my head” tempo drop that completely characterizes “Skull Pop;” the weird shifting, elongated verse melody that announces the album on “Betty Dreams Of Green Men.” It’s clear that none of these flourishes are quite as prodding as the warped beats and forced syncopation of yore, but even if they were, I get the sense that their new packaging would gloss over the edges. The result is an album that is full of musical ingenuity and aural pleasures but lacking in long-term affect or cultural demarcators.

Glorious sounds and charming aesthetic collisions are plentiful on GT Ultra. The “Funky Town” vocoder that graces “Crystal Run” and the bouncy Future Shock night-terror vibe of “TV Do Tell” add up to tracks ideal for the production of a hypothetical new high-concept Sonic platformer. As a whole, however, the blend presents a sort of space between Guerilla Toss as a hard-edged rock band and GT Ultra as a hyper-pop machine. GT Ultra lands mildly in between, without the fervor of identity crisis. A transformation with reckless abandon of genre and context, social meaning falls by the wayside to auditory whims. The non-presumptuous eight tracks are novel and fun, with hope for expansion upon the theme. Beyond that, however, is a sound-identity so isolationist that there is little space for transference or impact.

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

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This week in headlines: Arcade Fire Clap Back, Tom Thinks The New Fleet Foxes Album Is Meh, Diplo Is Gross, Katy Perry Wants Your Attention So Damn Bad, Lorde Fuckin’ Loves The F Train, and The Chainsmokers Pop-Up Shop Was Actually Pretty Chill. Here are the five best songs … More »