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Guerilla Toss - Twisted Crystal Music Album Reviews

The New York quintet diverges from its dance-punk roots, stirring in dashes of surf-pop, big beat, and classic rock on an album that explores the mysteries of the universe and the human psyche.

Since their formation in 2010, Guerilla Toss have maintained an appealing mix of hyperactive exuberance and sonic innovation. From their dance-punk palette to their homages to LSD, the New York-based quintet’s outré energy seems to grow with each new project. Their uncanny and otherworldly instrumental concoctions complement their uncanny and otherworldly themes, whether they’re singing about a talking parrot or Jesus Christ. Twisted Crystal, their third DFA release, finds them traversing new compositional terrain in their exploration of yet another colorful abyss.

Diverging from their previous forays into punk and new wave, the album embraces sweeter melodies, stirring in dashes of surf-pop, big beat, and classic-rock showmanship. Despite this honeyed approach, things still get weird on Twisted Crystal. Occultists of sound, Guerilla Toss bend their instruments in strange, mysterious ways; guitarist Arian Shafiee employs Eastern tuning, while the album uses Eventide processing to add a coat of burnished reverb that recalls classic-rock monoliths like Led Zeppelin. Cowbell gallops in, guitar riffs zigzag in unexpected directions, and sci-fi spaceship sound effects light up the songs like burst glow sticks. As they’re exploring these novel sounds, Guerilla Toss saturate their songs with social commentary.  The album captures the hysteria that comes with struggling to understand the world, and the universe, around us—tripping on blind faith, falling into potholes of ideology, and awakening oneself to paralyzing complacency in order to act against it.

Twisted Crystal feels post-human and extraterrestrial, a mystical attempt to connect with a higher power. Warped, gooey guitar lines and spiraling synth flutters hit like a sugar rush, most impressively on opener “Magic Is Easy.” The album’s production offers just the right amount of overstimulation, incorporating sounds seemingly imported from both dreams and nightmares as it emphasizes lyrics steeped in metaphysical inquiry. “Jesus, take me from this planet/You’re the leader and I’m your little rabbit,” frontwoman Kassie Carlson sings on “Jesus Rabbit.” It feels like a bizarre children’s song, as Carlson schemes her way off Earth, poking fun at humanity and the idea of divinity in the same breath.

On “Walls of the Universe,” skittering strings and a climactic synth crescendo conjure the infinite enormity of the cosmos. Carlson sings in a robotic voice about a journey across the universe with a talking bird, once again escaping the mundanity of earthly existence for adventure in another world—or, as she puts it, “crossing the line from boring to obscene.” Lead single “Meteorological” finds her plumbing the depths of human emotions, where moods can be as unpredictable as the weather. Led by a spunky bass riff and propulsive drums, she reflects on her inability to read other people’s reactions—and even her own—with total accuracy. Time and time again, Carlson launches inquiries, only to conclude that much of the human experience is impenetrable.

But when Guerilla Toss are confronted with the limits of their understanding, they take it as an invitation to expand their minds. On closing track “Green Apple,” Carlson turns her attention to the sights and sounds that surround her. Both senses awaken as she describes spirals of green-apple incense, while textural chaos erupts around her voice in the form of bandmate Peter Negroponte’s unrelenting drums and flute-like synths. Carlson leaves us with haunting questions, sowing doubt about the reliability of our own perceptions: “Did you really see?/Do you really think that?/What do you believe?”

On Twisted Crystal, Guerilla Toss journey to the edge of the universe and grapple with the mysteries of human existence. Such adventures can be panic inducing, but here they conquer anxiety through curiosity, finding excitement and even solace in abstruseness.


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