It feels like ages since we had a proper Torche release. That is, if you discount the quicker than a hiccup release ‘Songs for Singles‘ in 2010. ‘Meanderthal‘ would have been an appropriate mantra for the band following the release of that album, with the following full length held up by line-up changes, singer/guitarist Steve Brooks getting back together with old band Floor, and a split with Part Chimp last year that featured not one but three Guided by Voices covers. Good things come to those who wait, however, and ‘Harmonicraft‘ is by and large the follow-up we all hoped for.
Andrew Elstner takes up the position of lead guitarist following the departure of Brooks’ long-time bandmate Juan Montoya, but ‘Harmonicraft‘ is typically Torche and begins with upbeat flourish. The anthemic ‘Kicking’ sums up what Torche do best, surely designed for the live arena when people will no doubt bounce in unison when Brooks yells out the word ‘Kicking!‘ Elstner gets the chance to put his stamp on the band with some searing guitar solos, such as the beginning of the 90-second ‘Walk It Off’.
Torche – Kicking
‘Harmonicraft‘ trips up slightly during its midsection, a weak underbelly that strives too much for pop sensibility that it trips up over it and knocks their fine sludge/pop balance off kilter. No amount of echoing high end riffage such as at the beginning of ‘Snakes Are Charmed’ can avoid that, and the result is something distinctly lacking in any punch or any real sense of hook, and I failed to be overly enthused by the following track’s brief bounce (‘Sky Trials’) . Thankfully they manage to pull it back around by the end of the album, with ‘Kiss Me Dudely’ being a more rampaging celebration, and the outstanding and contemplative ‘Solitary Traveller’ is also particular highlight.
I don’t think ‘Harmonicraft‘ is Torche’s best work – I’ve noticed a lot of people hailing it and everything but it took a little while to grow on me, such a thing that didn’t happen with previous Torche releases. That said, the majority of ‘Harmonicraft‘ is quality, and when they get the formula right, boy do they get the formula right. The marriage between joyous and upbeat harmonies and sludgy downtempo melodies still work fine. My personal ideal is for them to not to tinker with the formula too much – it worked for AC/DC and The Ramones, and while Torche are neither of those bands, they have a formula that doesn’t require much alteration or experimentation.