Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Guerilla Toss Famously Alive

Sub Pop
Sub Pop

Don’t touch that dial. You’re now listening to Guerilla Toss. The first minute of Famously Alive fades in and out like radio waves as a slick, commanding groove emerges from the muck and solidifies itself, kicking off the band’s most ambitious and accessible album yet. Guerilla Toss have always flirted with pop and mined its history for inspiration, but they’ve never sounded as in control as they do on Famously Alive, a magical whirlwind that blurs the line between pop and art-rock and psychedelia and everything in between. It’s delirious fun, a bold transformation for Guerilla Toss, who still sound noisy and chaotic but also abundantly, vividly bright.

The band has been heading doing this path for a while. Guerilla Toss first became known in Boston for their raucous, wild live shows in the early 2010s; a move to Brooklyn saw them wield the unpredictability of their stage personas into music that squelched and sparkled. They balanced forceful hooks with sonic freakouts, crafting songs that were interested in defying expectations while also appealing to a listener’s base instinct for primal release. 2016’s GT Ultra, probably the best front-to-back Guerilla Toss album before this one, was a pounding and pulsing dive into the allure of mind-altering substances; its songs were about alien abductions and scientific experimentation gone awry. But as the band — which once had many members but has gradually been pared down to the the core trio of Kassie Carlson, Peter Negroponte, and Arian Shafiee — has matured, they’ve taken on more pressing real-life concerns. 2019’s What Would The Odd Do? EP found Carlson wrestling with her struggles with opiate addiction and the open-heart surgery she had to have a few years prior. Carlson entered recovery during the pandemic, and has come out on the other side with a renewed zeal that shines through on Famously Alive.

Written and recorded in upstate New York, the band’s new album feels like a breath of fresh air that only an escape from the city and a new lease on life can provide. Famously Alive is bursting with positivity, songs that are meant to inspire and evoke joy. The album’s title, taken from a poem written by friend of the band Jonny Tatelman, is about embracing life with the confidence of a celebrity, as if the most noteworthy thing one can do is simply keep going. It’s a far cry from the paranoid disassociation that used to characterize the band’s songs — instead, Famously Alive is all about being the best that you can be. “I’m feeling godly/ But just for me,” Carlson pumps herself up on one track. “I’m special/ High level/ I’m special/ You’re special/ Live exponential.” The syrupy hook of another: “Every day a celebration/ I am a radiant sun/ All things a fascination/ Happy me, happy me, happy me.”

Happiness sounds good on Guerilla Toss. These paeans to a more meaningful existence are life-affirming and full. Carlson, Negroponte, and Shafiee act as a tight unit after all these years in a band together, and they manage to wrangle so many different strains of music into one sleek, irresistible package. Just some of what to expect on Famously Alive: closer “Heathen In Me” is an affecting hyperpop-adjacent ballad, “Live Exponential” sounds like it was pulled straight from the AraabMusik era of glittery electronic bombast, “Pyramid Humm” feels like a nod to “Walk Like An Egyptian,” with a purred-out breakdown that’s just sublime, and the title track bleeds with all the urgency of a pop-punk song. That’s all in addition to the more typical Guerilla Toss signifiers: dance-rock and funk and the glam of the ’70s and ’80s. The sum of all these parts is an unbridled energy and charisma that’s simply infectious.

All this is not to say that these songs are still not fueled by the usual anxieties that come with being alive today. Some of the album’s most impactful moments are also its darkest and most conflicted. Take opening track and lead single “Cannibal Capital,” which froths around the whiplash of a day of being too online: “We are economies of empathy and ecstasy,” Carlson sings over a needling bassline. “I’m social with enemies and it takes the best of me.” Or “Mermaid Airplane,” one of my favorite songs of the year, a fantastical dancefloor jam about wishing the best for someone even if you’re not keeping up with them as closely as you should. “I’m lonely/ So sorry I forgot your birthday,” goes the hook on that one. “I’m hoping you’re riding on mermaids airplane.” But where before Guerilla Toss might have let those sorts of feelings trap them in an inescapable and claustrophobic spiral, here they sound like breakthroughs, opportunities to better yourself and the world around you.

Famously Alive is out 3/25 via Sub Pop. Pre-order it here.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Destroyer’s LABYRINTHITIS, which we’ll have more on soon
• Daddy Yankee’s farewell album Legendaddy
• Phife Dawg’s posthumous Forever
• Aldous Harding’s Warm Chris
• Denzel Curry’s Melt My Eyez See Your Future
• Camp Cope’s Running With The Hurricane
• Caracara’s New Preoccupations
• Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems
• Barrie’s Barbara
• Loraine James’ Whatever The Weather ambient project
• Maren Morris’ Humble Quest
• Jensen McRae’s Are You Happy Now?
• Kavinsky’s Reborn
• Ibibio Sound Machine’s Electricity
• Walter Martin’s The Bear
• Kevin Devine’s Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong
• Koffee’s Gifted
• Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s Nightclub Daydreaming
• Bellows’ Next Of Kin
• Jana Rush’s Dark Humor
• Kilo Kish’s American Gurl
• Ex-Vöid’s Bigger Than Before
• Young Prisms’ Drifter
• P.E.’s The Leather Lemon
• Proper.’s The Great American Novel
• ginla’s Everything
• Wallows’ Tell Me That It’s Over
• Gabriel Kahane’s Magnificent Bird
• Tha God Fahim’s Six Ring Champ
• Emily Jane White’s Alluvion
• Buddy’s Super Ghetto
• Nigo’s I Know Nigo
• Absent In Body’s Plague God
• Fivio Foreign’s B.I.B.L.E.
• Kristian Bush’s 52-ATLxBNA
• The Asteroid No.4’s Tones Of The Sparrow
• Cowboy Junkies’ Songs Of The Recollection
• Carly Cosgrove’s See You In Chemistry
• IGNITE’s self-titled sixth album
• Reba McEntire’s My Chains Are Gone
• Michael Bublé’s HIGHER
• Kid Rock’s Bad Reputation
• COIN’s Uncanny Valley
• Suicide’s Surrender compilation
• Thou and Gewgawly I’s NORCO video game soundtrack
• Fucked Up’s rarities collection Do All Words Can Do
• Tindersticks’ PAST IMPERFECT: The best of tindersticks ’92 – ’21
• Kraftwerk’s Remixes compilation
• The Killers’ Pressure Machine deluxe edition
• En Vogue’s Funky Divas expanded edition
• Cadence Weapon’s Parallel World deluxe edition
• Killing Joke’s Lord Of Chaos EP
• Emma Ruth Rundle’s Orpheus Looking Back EP
• LSDXOXO’s Dedicated 2 Disrespect: The Remixes EP

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