Album Review: Guerilla Toss – Twisted Crystal

By Josh Pettis, Contributor
[DFA; 2018]
Rating: 7/10

Key Tracks: “Meteorological”, “Retreat”, “Come Up With Me”

Jagged, gritty, culty, absurd, carnival-esque, dancy, antsy, funky, hyperbolically-rockish, new-wave-punk-surf-poppy: if you’ve ever listened to Guerilla Toss, you’re bound to recognize at least a couple of those adjectives. Plus, the New York-based art rock group’s sixth studio album Twisted Crystal probably supplies whatever seems leftover or unfamiliar on the list, making the band almost inscrutable to describe by the virtue of the sheer volume of styles piling up with each release.

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Almost reminiscent of 2017’s GT Ultra, Twisted Crystal somehow feels a little more covert in the expression of the full range of the band’s influences. If the Guerilla Toss of last year overdubbed 20 years of classic radio rock and pop on tape, these tracks would be the choice cuts, and the result is an album that sounds like the anthem to its own obscure, secret religion.

“Magic is Easy”, Twisted Crystal’s first warped offering, rockets its way down a rabbit hole with otherworldly, whining bass and liturgical overdriven lead guitars, all kept in check with Guerilla Toss’ synth arpeggio sensibilities and a healthy dose of spacey sounds. Seriously, the first half of this album is full of crystal ball jams and manic whimsy. Case in point: “Meteorological”, a track that starts out like it could’ve been pulled from a lost ‘70s action B-movie soundtrack with its dirty, old-school drums and infectiously-funky bass. Lyrically, vocalist Kassie Carlson offers up some album-epitomizing lines: “I want to be natural / Meteorological / Predicting the pressure of / Malleable weather structure,” building a mood of comic unease on the back of vague auguries.

Pushing through layers of detuned outer space membrane into Twisted Crystal’s second half, “Retreat” sits dead center of the album and blends booming 808s with washed-out surf guitars and mystic synth brass and woodwinds so well that it’s probably the definitive club banger to cast spells to. The remaining four tracks provide a look into a dystopian future where researchers use supercomputers to recreate the zeitgeist of ‘70s and ‘80s rock and pop with scraps of Talking Heads and Queen songs. “Come Up With Me” literally shreds. It borders on exploiting the sonic foundations of early hair metal bands with wonky, inappropriately-epic guitar passages, which in conjunction with ultra-upbeat synth stabs, puts it at the apex of whatever exponentially-bizarre graph would represent the energy curve of this record.

Never daunted, Guerilla Toss flaunts form on Twisted Crystal, a release with just as much replay value as genre tangents. Meticulously layered with analog hiss, frenetic instrumental bliss and Carlson’s consistently stunning and varied vocal performance, Guerilla Toss makes a discipline of complex detail, where just about anyone else would have to feel bogged down. It’s the seeming unmanageability of Twisted Crystal’s frantically-dense, proselytizing aesthetic that provides listeners with a deliberately chaotic, perfectly self-aware album experience.

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