I vaguely remember being sent Torche’s second album, Meanderthal, for review about four (five?) years back or so. The memories in question are filed in the narrow and underused mental pigeonhole labelled “comedy doom-pop”, alongside a scribbled memo about a disappointing follow-up (which may only have been an EP or something).
So when the editorial team of this esteemed organ informed me that they’re such ardent hard-left anarcholibertarians that the thought of, y’know, assigning things to their writers smacked just a mite too much of hierarchy and oppression, and that I should “just pick something off this list here, for fuck’s sake, you’re making this a real chore”… well, what would you have done? Me, I reached out for the warm reassurance of the familiar amidst a hailstorm of bleakness and pain. Torche – yeah, they were all right. That’ll do.
Not a bad choice, as it turns out – though not a life-changer either. I still stand by “comedy doom-pop”, though I remember Meanderthal as being sillier than this. Harmonicraft, by comparison, is a little more straight-faced, more knowing, perhaps; noisy boys grown up a bit but still fond of the fun-times, that sort of thing. You know, just like pop-punk bands used to do around their third or fourth album, back in the days when you could still use “pop-punk” as a non-derogatory critical term and be taken seriously anywhere other than Punktastic.
There’s definitely some pop and some punk in the Torche DNA, though, and that’s fine. Not a great deal of riffing here, more four-chord progressions, the occasional catchy chorus, and hints of that classic FM rock architecture, like someone wandering through Desertfest carrying an old boom-box with Rainbow cranked to the max. Kicking in particular has a lingering anthemic flavour, though it’s out the back door and halfway down the street before the hook has time to stick; Roaming lurks a little longer, but sags somewhat around the middle, like a man too old for his skinny-fit jeans.
Elsewhere, Skin Moth brings bagsful of bright and ballsy momentum, and the bright melodic lines and cheery delay-drenched arpeggios of Snakes Are Charmed blur past you like the soundtrack to a fast drive down a long highway in some sun-drenched corner of the States you only recognise from movies; you’re on the way to the denouement scene, the lost members of your gang rescued from wherever the villains stashed them, and you’re following the sinking sun westward for the final showdown. (Your inevitable but nonetheless spectacular victory – after about another ten to twelve minutes of screen-time, to be punctuated by nail-biting cliffhanger escapes, a bit of callous betrayal and an act of pure and spontaneous sacrifice from an unexpected quarter – will be underpinned by a swelling coda/reprisal of the same progression played forte con orchestra.)
There’s more than a hint of late-model Biffy Clyro here, too – and not only that muted sense of melodic suss which always sounds like it’s just about to be subverted (but never quite is), but the stadium-reverb stylings of the guitar and vocal sounds, which lend an inescapable (if not always deserved) sense of epic chest-swelling gravitas to pretty much any mid-paced ditty played on cranked guitars. Torche seem to have nailed a tightrope-walk technique with Harmonicraft, in that it never sounds outright daft, and equally it never turns into the earnest Commercially-Viable Arena Rawk®, which it apes in a strange but endearingly respectful manner. This is an interesting and largely uninhabited corner of the musical map.
So, what’s good about Harmonicraft? It’s loud, it’s fuzzy, and it sounds like a record by a band who have a lot of fun when they’re playing: you can practically hear the shit-eating grins, practically see the comedy cod-rock axe-meister poses being pulled, practically feel the bruised knees from that drunken yet ironic powerslide across the studio floor. Harmonicraft does not take itself too seriously, and – going on past form – I assume the same applies to Torche themselves. Heck, there’s even some thumpity-splat Bow-Wow-Wow drumbeats in there; if you can get away with that, I figure you’re doing okay.