- Gang of Thieves, Totem
(Self-released, digital download)
Gang of Thieves are something like the funk-rock equivalent of a vintage hot rod. Polished and powerful, the Burlington band has specialized in roaring, full-throttle grooves for close to a decade. And, like most hot rods, they're a bit of a gaudy throwback, favoring the bouncy, manic sounds of 1990s-era ska, punk and funk. (I've been covering GoT since 2009, and though I can't take credit for it, to this day my favorite description of the band remains "Rage Against the Chili Peppers.")
Over time, GoT have customized with various flashy modifications — most notably, horns. While trumpets and trombones added a chrome-like gleam to GoT's sound dating back at least to Thunderfunk in 2014, the rhythm section has remained the rumbling engine under the hood. That's never been clearer than on the band's new EP, Totem.
After years of fluctuating membership, GoT recently downsized to a quartet. Original Thieves Michael Reit (vocals), Nick Wood, (guitar) and Tobin Salas (bass) remain, joined by drummer Taylor Whipple. The quartet is a muscular, no-frills vehicle for GoT's elastic funk-rock anthems.
Without horns, the band's melodic burden falls on Reit and Wood. Both are easily up to the challenge. Reit in particular has never sounded more dynamic — or vulnerable. On "The Way I Feel," for example, he ruminates on the soul-crushing indignity of working shit jobs to provide for his family. His writing is simple but effective, made more immediate by vocals that pirouette over the band's pulsing funk groove.
Reit has long been one of Vermont's most underrated vocalists. The comparatively spare sonic surroundings of Totem provide him ample room to stretch out. Look no further than his performance on the opener, "Raise Your Head," where his freakish, Chris Cornell-like range is fully on display.
Reit's fellow Thieves match his intensity and tact. Wood might never be mistaken for Tom Morello — and that's hardly a slight. But he unleashes his own brand of vicious funk-rock riffage on "Rise and Shine" and closer "Light It Up." Salas remains one of the state's funkiest bassists. And Whipple lays down one thunderous backbeat after another.
Lean, focused and potent, Totem is in some ways more refined than previous GoT efforts. But it is in no way restrained. The same insistent energy that has fueled the band since the beginning remains; GoT are just finding new and creative ways to channel it.
Totem by Gang of Thieves is available at gangofthieves.bandcamp.com.