With Meanderthal, Torche’s sophomore full-length from 2008, the sludge-pop group suddenly found itself buried under a ton of accolades. So it did what any proper underground band would do: It dug deeper. Now, after four years of sporadic EPs and split releases (including one with the like-minded Boris), Torche is back with Harmonicraft. This time, though, the Miami-based group seems less apprehensive about the oncoming avalanche of acclaim (and perhaps even fame). More than ever before, singer-guitarist Steve Brooks and crew are aggressively courting popular appeal.
Granted, Brooks has never been shy around melody. As far back as 1994—when Torche’s predecessor, Floor, released its first singles—he’s been honing his knack for marrying thunderous riffs to infectious hooks. As its title indicates, Harmonicraft doesn’t beat around the bush in that regard, either. Like Melvins with an ice-cream headache, the group—including new guitarist Andrew Elstner—juggles heaviness, sweetness, and summertime glee with equal expertise. Elstner’s predecessor, Juan Montoya, had been Brooks’ sideman since Floor, but Elstner fills that void admirably. “Walk It Off” splashes around in a pop-punk frenzy before squealing to a halt amid euphoric metal solos; “Reverse Inverted” drags the same river, only with a churning, muddier undertow.
As dynamic as the disc gets, though, it never lulls. The swarming, distorted intro of “Snakes Are Charmed” makes metallic licks sound like giddy synths. Regardless of what the massively catchy “Skin Moth” may or may not be about, it mandates a shout-along. As usual, Brooks’ lyrics are catchy scraps of nonsense—although “Kiss Me Dudely” is an open, on-the-nose celebration of his homosexuality, a topic he tends to discuss more in interviews than in song. Here, and on the rest of the album, his voice nails its usual sweet spot somewhere between Dave Grohl and Josh Homme. In fact, Harmonicraft as a whole owes plenty—sound-wise and ambition-wise—to both Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age, more so than Torche has ever managed before. Rather than merely aiming at populism, though, Brooks has set a new personal best for what he’s been doing for almost 20 years: turning pop anthems into earthmovers.